Other advantages to breastfeeding but not for childhood obesity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breastfeeding no help for controlling childhood obesity, finds JAMA study.

Breastfeeding is recommended for infants and is known to boost immunity, promote mother and baby bonding and more. But a new study shows breastfeeding may be no help for stopping childhood obesity, contrary to what we have been told in the past.

According to a new study that appears in the March 15 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) involved almost 14,000 healthy infants in Belarus who were tracked by researchers to find out if specific interventions could boost the amount of time and duration women breastfeed.

The study

Past studies have suggested women who breastfeed their babies might be helping children with controlling overweight and ob.esity later in life. For the current study, infants were followed for 11.5 years, finding the intervention failed in reducing adiposity

Women included in the study were those with no conditions that would impact their ability to breastfeed. Children were followed between January 2008 and December 2010 and were part of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative developed by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund.

Sixteen maternity hospitals participated in the breast feeding intervention. Fifteen other facilities were used as a comparison. The control group breastfed their infants on a schedule and gave them infant formula, which is considered 'usual practice'.

The group encouraged to exclusively breast feed did so longer, but later in life, researchers found no differences in weight between the two groups.

The theory was that breast feeding might help control levels of serum insulin-like growth factor to help control overweight and obesity, but the study suggests that may not be the case.


Look for other ways to curb childhood obesity

A 2003 study analysis published in the Journal of Human Lactation suggested modest weight benefits for children from being breast fed, but the findings were inconclusive. The authors wrote: " If the association is causal, the effect of breastfeeding is probably small compared to other factors that influence child obesity, such as parental overweight."

One of the strengths of the current study, according to Martin, is that it was randomized, rather than observational. Women were given a choice to breastfeed long-term, allowing for a more accurate assessment. Martin points out breastfeeding long-term isn't easy in a JAMA interview.

Richard M. Martin, lead study author says efforts to promote breast feeding are still important. Martin previously found fewer health problems for infants in the first year of life from mother's milk.

Martin says the children will be followed up with at age 16.5 to compare the two groups. The plan is to asses IQ, lung function, eczema and vision.

There is still no question that 'breast is best' when it comes to other areas of childhood health, but Martin says the practice is unlikely to do much for childhood obesity rates. Instead, he recommends other interventions including healthy eating and looking at environmental influences that contribute to the growing problem. Though there may be no benefits for controlling overweight and obesity in children, other health perks of breastfeeding are well documented.

JAMA. 2013;309(10):1005-1013.


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