Do you eat breakfast? Many people don’t, but they could be putting themselves at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and increased body fat.

Surveys vary in the number of people who don’t eat breakfast. Part of the problem, of course, is defining what counts as a ‘breakfast’. Assuming it to be a meal rather than a snack taken on the run to work, then somewhere between 30% and 40% regularly skip it.

Thankfully, parents and teachers – whatever they do themselves – usually insist that children eat something. Past studies have shown the importance of breakfast for learning, and some schools even provide breakfast for pupils.

Two recent studies have now reinforced the benefits of breakfast for adolescents and adults.

In a study of nearly 3,000 European adolescents*, those that ate breakfast regularly had less body fat, were fitter and showed fewer of the risk factors for heart disease – especially in the boys.

The other study** looked at more than 29,000 adult men, following them for 16 years. After taking account of other factors, those who regularly skipped breakfast were 21% more likely to get type 2 diabetes, a serious disease that is increasing rapidly among adults and young people.

These findings have considerable significance in confirming and adding to earlier work.

Nutritionists have long suggested that we should eat something at the beginning of the day. Food that releases energy slowly can stave off feelings of hunger and reduce the amount of snacking through the morning. Debate will continue about what makes the ideal breakfast – although most nutritionists won’t be suggesting a daily fry-up!


Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life


*Link to the study of adolescents:

**Link to the study of adult men:




Many people think bad news can make you ill. It seems it may go even further.

A study* of over 6 million Swedes who were told they had cancer showed that a high number committed suicide in the first week after they were given the news – especially among those who were told their outlook was poor. It’s a sad finding, but perhaps not surprising.

More striking, though, was the number of others who suffered a heart attack soon after being told. The risk of dying from a heart attack during the first week increased more than five-fold. The risk remained high over the first four weeks but decreased rapidly back to normal levels.

This fits with other work confirming that death can be precipitated by the death of someone close. It seems that people really can die of a “broken heart”.

Unfortunately, observational studies like these can’t explain why this happens. Bad news is part of everyday life, and the closer the news is to us personally the greater is its effect. But what exactly is going on? If we knew this, we could take action to avert the adverse effects.

There are good reasons to think that bad news may result in metabolic effects that affect an already precariously diseased heart or raise blood pressure to bring on a heart attack or a stroke. Perhaps surges of certain hormones produce these effects: this is certainly plausible but that does not mean it is correct. Unfortunately it is difficult to investigate something as unpredictable as bad news.

Whatever the explanation, the findings highlight how important it may be for friends, workmates and colleagues to offer each other support at troubled times.


*Link to study: Fang F et al. Suicide and cardiovascular death after a cancer diagnosis. N Engl J Med 2012 Apr 5; 366:1310.


Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life



As part of a long-term study of ageing, it was found that one in three people over 52 had difficulties reading and understanding instructions on how to use their medicine*.

Researchers tested how well 8,000 participants understood straightforward written instructions and divided them into those who scored well, an intermediate group who made few mistakes and those who did less well. It emerged that the scores worsened as people grew older.

They then went on to look at the mortality risk associated with these different scores. As you might expect, those with the lowest scores had a much increased risk. Is this because these people don’t understand what they need to do to maintain their health? Or because they are less well off? Or perhaps, as shown by studies in the United States, they are simply not making use of what’s available to help them.

Whatever the explanation, there’s a clear message here for doctors, nurses and pharmacists. There need to be better methods for communicating with a significant proportion of the publication. This will gain in importance as the average age of the population increases, treatments become more complicated, and an increasing number of people develop long-term diseases in their later years.

*Link to study (BMJ 2012;344:e1602)


Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

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