"Please smile, avoid eye contact, flash him, or tell him someone died in your family. Your normally bitchy demeanor is even more intimidating today," texted my friend one morning while we were hanging out with her new boyfriend. While I have a reputation of suffering from CBFS (Chronic Bitch Face Syndrome), that morning was different than most. I didn't eat breakfast.
Despite being inseparable in high school, my friend hadn't realized that as an adult, running on an empty stomach guarantees that I'll be introducing you to a variation of my usually pleasant self: a grouchy anthropophobic fireball of a human who epitomizes the term 'hangry'. Gone were my adolescent years, when I —along with a vast majority of my peers—would rarely take my first bite of food before noon.
But the bad habit of not eating in the morning is not something exclusive to my age group or to my ignorant, albeit younger, self — a survey by the NPD Group unearthed that 31 million Americans, about 10 percent of the US population, do not eat breakfast.
There are many moving parts that explain why people opt to miss out on the meal, ranging from body image concerns to a time deficit in the morning. (For me, it was because skipping breakfast gave me more time sleep, a priceless commodity for an invincible teen, such as myself.) But researchers have recently found an interesting reason why individuals—specifically, adolescents—may not be consuming breakfast altogether: they are victims of bullying.
The new study, published in international journal Appetite, sought to find a relationship between bullying and skipping breakfast. By gathering data from the Eastern Ontario 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) that spanned a range of 11 to 20 year old's, the researchers were able to analyze whether or not being a victim of bullying is a factor in skipping the first meal of the day.
In addition to finding that adolescents don't have much love or respect for breakfast, the scientists found that victims of either within school or cyber bullying presented a greater likelihood of omitting the meal from their diet.
"The results showed that approximately half of the students were not eating breakfast regularly," said Dr. Claire Farrow, one of the authors of the study and a senior lecturer in psychology at Aston University in the UK. "Importantly, children who were being bullied, either within in school or through cyber bullying, were more likely to miss breakfast. We also found that depression mediated the impact of bullying on breakfast skipping; put another way, it means that depression helps to explain why these children were skipping that meal. They were being bullied, and this was making them feel depressed, and therefore, skip breakfast."
The significance of your first meal is nothing new. Doctors, nutritionists, overbearing mothers, know-it-all fathers and scientists have been warning about the aftereffects of not consuming America's most neglected meal. Even I'll be the first to admit: their cautions are valid. Studies have concluded that skipping breakfast is associated with substance abuse, infrequent exercise habits, higher risk of obesity, poor heart health, and negative short-term effects on memory.
And lest you assume bullying cannot have that kind of effect on diets, consider this: Previous studies have pinpointed a correlation between bullying and eating disorders. Take, for instance, the 2011 study that found verbal bullying can leave adolescent girls with body dissatisfaction or the 2008 study, which found that bullying could cause victims to binge eat.
"As far as we know, this is the first study to look at these relationships—most previous work has focused on how bullying effects disordered eating rather than eating breakfast," Dr. Farrow explains.
Over the past few years, bullying has grown from a loose term to a full-scale public health concern. Statistics reveal that between one in four American students have been bullied at school with effects that can last well into adulthood. With technology and social media rapidly expanding, cyber bullying has evolved into a mainstream form of aggression—similar to school bullying—which has been linked with mental health tribulations like increased anxiety and emotional distress.
"If we are to help increase the intake of breakfast, which is so important for health and development, then it is fundamental that we understand the reasons why children are missing this important meal," Dr. Farrow says about the significance of the study. "Understanding that bullying and depression may explain this behavior in certain children will help better targeted interventions to be developed for children in this age range."
With more and more cases of bullying making headlines, the severity of dealing with bullying and its effects is an important one. Scientists are busy conducting more research on the newly found association, and public health professionals work on interventions to promote breakfast, so I've got just one PSA (and temporary solution) from a former breakfast dodger: Adolescents, please eat your morning meal. And stop being assholes to one another.