Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK also found that women tended to eat more calories during the day if they had skipped breakfast, raising the risk for weight gain if they missed breakfast regularly over the long-term.
Breakfast consumption has long been recommended by nutritionists, despite inconclusive evidence of the health benefits, write the researchers in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 81, no 2, pp388-396).
Yet Datamonitor analysis shows that breakfast is the meal most likely to be skipped during the day, being replaced by snacking or 'desktop dining'. UK consumers are more likely than their European counterparts to miss breakfast, skipping on average 113 breakfasts a year per person in 2003. Datamonitor forecasts this will increase to almost 120 in 2008.
The new findings suggests that this trend could have long-term implications for heart health.
Previous research has found that people who eat wholegrain cereals tend to have lower cholesterol and insulin levels as well as lower body weight.
Dr Hamid R. Farshchi and colleagues recruited 10 healthy women with a normal weight to test the effects of skipping breakfast over a short period.
The women were asked to eat bran flakes with low-fat milk before 0800 for two weeks followed by their normal mealtimes. They were also allowed two snacks during the day.
After a two-week break, the group then crossed over to skip breakfast in the morning, instead eating it between midday and 1330, followed by two additional meals and two snacks.
Both diets allowed a cookie between 1030 and 1100.
Cholesterol levels were higher after skipping breakfast and insulin sensitivity was lower, report the researchers, suggesting that if this habit was continued, the women could put heart health at risk.
"Omitting breakfast was associated with significantly higher fasting total and LDL cholesterol than was eating breakfast (3.14 and 3.43 mmol/L and 1.55 and 1.82 mmol/L, respectively; P = 0.001)," write the researchers.
When the women skipped breakfast they also reported higher calorie intakes.
The impaired fasting lipids and insulin sensitivity could lead to weight gain if the observed higher energy intake was sustained, conclude the researchers.