Breakfast: The Power of Marketing

Breakfast: The Power of Marketing

The Importance of Breakfast

By MedExpert | Aug 12, 2019

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Roughly three-quarters of adults in America eat breakfast.[i] Since 2014 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional guidelines[ii] have recommended we eat breakfast. The British Dietetic Association[iii] and World Health Organization also recommend eating breakfast.[iv] However, new research finds the accolades of “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” might have been a marketing ploy.

For centuries breakfast wasn’t considered an important meal. Before refrigeration, it would take hours to wake up; start a fire; butcher an animal; pick and clean crops and bake bread.  The first meal of the day would often occur around noon. 

In the mid to late 19th century, a number of wellness sanitariums opened in the United States. One of these sanitariums was the Battle Creek Sanitarium opened in Michigan by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and his brother Will Keith Kellogg.  The Kelloggs aimed to improve health by “returning man to their natural diet” of natural, bland, and unsweetened food.[v] They created their own version of James Caleb Jackson’s 1863 invention of cereal, “granula,” and unveiled their “granola” product at their sanitarium and rebranded themselves as the Sanitas Food Company. Despite its bland taste and rock hard texture, people wanted cereal; it was marketed as both a solution to indigestion and a quick, healthy meal for children.

By 1903, more than 100 cereal factories were built in Battle Creek Michigan. One competitor, Charles W. Post, placed newspaper advertisements claiming his Grape-nuts cereal could cure malaria[vi].  In response to growing competition, Dr. John Kellogg wanted to compete by focusing on cereal’s health benefit, while his brother, Will, wanted to add excessive amounts of sugar and market cereals with cartoon characters and proclamations of “good source of vitamin D.” Their disagreements led them to form separate food companies and  Will Kellogg was awarded the rights to the Kellogg name and Corn Flakes. By 1917 Lenna F. Cooper[vii] published that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

With rising cereal sales, the Beech-Nut Packing Company hired Edward Bernays, a pioneer in public relations and propaganda, to increase the demand for Beech-Nut Bacon. Bernays’ strategy was to convince the market that a “heavier breakfast was healthier than a light one because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day.” Non-scientific ‘study’ results were published in major newspapers encouraging Americans to eat heavier breakfasts, specifically bacon and eggs. The marketing effort worked; bacon and egg sales soared.

We have a habit of eating breakfast but relatively little is known about skipping breakfast. Here are a few findings:

Eating breakfast improves cognitive function in school age children.

Individuals who skip breakfast have a higher incidence of Type 2 Diabetes.

Individuals who skip breakfast eat 260 fewer calories in a day.

By cultural habit, the breakfast foods we often find ourselves eating are cereal, eggs, toast, and bacon. However, sports dietician and an authority on nutrition, Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN+, states that the importance of eating breakfast is to consume an adequate amount of nutrition and calories throughout the day. There is no conclusive evidence supporting the statement that eating breakfast will result in weight loss. Think of it as another meal in day. If you do decide to eat breakfast, a nutritious selection of food are healthy sources of protein, whole grains, vegetables, and healthy fats. Although the findings were lackluster, the consensus is that people should listen to their bodies and eat when they feel hungry but keeping in mind not to overeat. “You don’t necessarily need to eat breakfast food in the morning, if you want leftover pizza that is perfectly acceptable, it’s important to change it up and eat a balance diet.”

 


[i] Haines, Guikey, and Popkins examine the breakfast consumption trends in the United States between 1965 and 1991. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8621871

[iii] Visit https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/breakfast.pdf for the UK’s “Healthy Breakfast”

[iv] For full report of health behavior of children, see http://www.hbsc.unito.it/it/images/pdf/hbsc/prelims-part1.pdf

[v] Mayyasi offers a comprehensive history of breakfast. https://priceonomics.com/how-breakfast-became-a-thing/

[vi] It should be noted that false advertisement was not illegal until 1938. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/54

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