Breastfed Babies May Be Less Likely to Become Obese. Part 1

Health authorities are concerned because American children and adolescents have been getting fatter over the last few decades. Overweight and obesity in youth is thought to predict the same conditions in adulthood, and adult obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis, among other conditions. Thus research is actively targeted at identifying modifiable factors that help tip a child’s weight towards overweight and obesity. Two studies in the May 16 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association examine the possibility that the amount and duration of breast-feeding during an infant’s first year can affect its risk of becoming too heavy.

Breast-feeding for the first year of an infant’s life is now the recommended mode of nourishment, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. While there are a number of benefits to breast-feeding, its effect on body size in later life is not clear. If there are size benefits, when do they appear, and is there some minimal duration of breastfeeding necessary to attain them?

Mary L. Hediger, Ph.D. and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) investigated the effect of breastfeeding on the body weight of young children who were 3-4 years old. The investigators used data on infant feeding and child weight status collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted from 1988-1994.

Records of 2685 children born in the United States were included. From height and weight data, the researchers calculated the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine their body size. BMI is the ratio of weight to height squared, and is widely used as an index of overweight and obesity. Children who were at or over the 95th percentile of BMI for their age were considered overweight, and those who were between the top 85th and 94th percentile were considered at risk of becoming overweight.

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