Breastfed Babies May Be Less Likely to Become Obese. Part 2

When the data on the children’s BMIs were analyzed together with data on breastfeeding, the investigators reported inconsistent results. For breastfed children, there was a 37 percent reduction in being at risk of overweight, an effect that was statistically significant. But the actual risk of being overweight at 3-5 years of age was not significantly affected by whether the child was breastfed—that risk was only 16 percent lower. Actually, the strongest predictor of a child’s overweight status, the authors noted, was “the mother’s concurrent weight.” They found that children whose mothers were obese had a greater than fourfold increased risk of being overweight than children whose mothers were normal weight.

In the second study of the effect of breastfeeding on later body size, Matthew W. Gillman, MD, SM, and coworkers from the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, examined data on older children, aged 9-14 years. The subjects included 7,155 boys and 8,186 girls who completed questionnaires at the beginning of the study in 1997. They provided information on age, sex, race/ethnicity, height, weight, sexual maturity, diet and physical activity. Their mothers, who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard completed questionnaires about their infant feeding practices.

In this study, unlike the one on young children, the investigators did find significant correlations between breastfeeding and later body size. Those children who had been breastfed for at least seven months had a 20 percent reduced risk of being overweight compared to children who had been breastfed for three months or less. Compared to children who had been fed only or mostly formula, those who had been only or mostly breastfed had a 22 percent lower risk of being overweight. In this study, controlling for maternal BMI did not eliminate the significant effect of breastfeeding on later risk of overweight. Dr. Gilman and his colleagues concluded that in their study, “infants who were breasfed were less likely than infants who were formula fed to manifest overweight as adolescents.”

In an editorial accompanying these two articles, William H. Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, suggests that the difference in age of the children studied may account for the lack of agreement in their findings. He noted that other studies of children have found a reduction of overweight frequency in children who had been breastfed.

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