They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for the most part, science tends to agree. A new study from the UK shows that children who eat breakfast are able to keep their metabolic processes in check, helping them to avoid risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes.

When it comes to obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, researchers have been finding that prevention at an earlier age is crucial. In the U.S., childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years, with more than a third of kids aged 6 to 11 currently overweight or obese. In the UK, where the study was conducted, obesity rates are similar, with 18.9 percent of 10- to 11-year-olds obese and 14.4 percent overweight. With studies already showing diabetes risk factors can emerge among adults and teens who skip breakfast, surely kids can put themselves at risk too, or so the study’s researchers hypothesized.

What they found was that it wasn’t only the frequency with which kids ate breakfast but also the type of breakfast they ate that predicted whether they developed risk factors for diabetes. The researchers questioned 4,116 kids aged 9 to 10 on their breakfast habits and administered blood tests to measure fasting insulin, glucose, and glycated hemoglobin — an average measure of long-term blood glucose levels. They found that the 26 percent of kids who didn’t eat breakfast daily were more likely to have higher fasting insulin (a risk factor for lower blood glucose levels), higher insulin resistance (cells can’t get energy), and a slightly higher glycated hemoglobin.

Previous studies have found that eating breakfast helps to regulate all of these metabolic processes. While a person who skips breakfast will have their blood glucose levels drop, only to spike once they’ve eaten their lunch, a person who ate breakfast will be able to stabilize their blood glucose levels early, helping them to avoid snacking or feeling hungry throughout the day — this also helps them avoid becoming obese or overweight. By avoiding spiking glucose levels, the heart is also able to work at a consistent pace.

Not all breakfast eaters were safe from diabetes risk factors, however. Those who ate cereals high in fiber had lower insulin resistance than those eating low-fiber cereals, biscuit-based foods, or other items like eggs and yogurt. Foods high in fiber help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day because they keep people full for longer.

“The observed associations suggest that regular breakfast consumption, particularly involving consumption of high fiber cereal, could protect against the early development of type 2 diabetes risk, partly though not entirely through effects on adiposity (fat) levels,” the researchers concluded. They said more research could determine whether the associations were causal, but noted that diets high in fiber were still important in reducing risk of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

Source: Donin A, Nightingale C, Owen C, et al. Regular Breakfast Consumption and Type 2 Diabetes Risk Markers in 0- to 10-Year-Old Children in the Child Heart and Health Study in England (CHASE): A Cross-Sectional Analysis. PLOS Medicine. 2014.