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Expert assessment
2 min

From breakfast to dinner: how is food intake distributed throughout the day?

Following on from its work on the dietary guidelines of the French National Health and Nutrition Programme (PNNS), ANSES decided to take a closer look at the health effects of how food intake is distributed throughout the day. At the same time, it also looked at the risks associated with children not eating breakfast.

A light dinner at least two hours before bedtime

In its expert appraisal, ANSES analysed all the available scientific literature on chrononutrition, focusing on biological mechanisms as well as epidemiological relationships. It noted a lack of robust studies in this area. ANSES stresses the importance of conducting studies and research specifically designed to define the relationship between the temporal distribution of food intake and the associated health effects.

The data currently available indicate that there is a link between a high energy intake in the evening and an increased risk of obesity. ANSES therefore recommends eating a light dinner early in the evening, at least two hours before bedtime.

Serving breakfast in schools: a non-zero risk with no proven benefits

ANSES also received a formal request from the Directorate General for Health to study the possible effects of breakfasts being served to all children in certain volunteer primary schools in priority education networks.

To address this issue, the Agency examined the available data in two stages. Although incomplete, the data from the first part of its work, carried out in 2021 (PDF in French), showed that only 6% of children do not eat breakfast during the week.

In the second part of its work, whose findings are being published today, the Agency stresses that:

  • by increasing energy intakes, eating an extra breakfast could increase the risk of overweight and obesity or result in an imbalanced diet, especially if the foods eaten are high in sugar;
  • there is no scientific evidence of any risk of overweight, obesity, or impaired cognitive performance associated with children not eating breakfast;
  • a lack of appetite in the morning could be caused by eating too much for dinner, eating dinner too late, or not getting enough sleep.

In light of these findings, the Agency considers that it is not appropriate to systematically compensate for skipping breakfast. If a child has not eaten breakfast, this should first and foremost serve as a warning about their hygiene or general living conditions, which may lead to health problems, especially obesity.

What is chrononutrition?

It is a field of study at the intersection of two scientific disciplines, nutrition and chronobiology, i.e. the study of the body's biological rhythms.