Breastfeeding May Protect Against Obesity in Early Life

Infants who are breastfed could have a reduced risk of being overweight in the first year of life, and that the protective association is stronger with longer and more exclusive breastfeeding, according to a new study published in Pediatrics.

Conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Manitoba, Canada, the study looked at both body mass index (BMI) and the rate of infant weight gain—an important predictor of future obesity and cardiovascular health. It found that the risk of overweight at 12 months of age was over three times higher among infants who were not breastfed (8.3% overweight) compared with infants who were exclusively breastfed (2.4% overweight) for the first six months of life.

Importantly the protective effects of breastfeeding were ‘dose dependent,’ meaning that babies who were partially breastfed also received some benefit, so ‘every feed counts’.

The research team used data from more than 2,500 infants and their mothers participating in the CHILD Study—a Canadian birth cohort study that is tracking children from before birth to school age and beyond to identify the root causes of asthma, allergy, obesity and other chronic conditions. Newborn feeding was documented from hospital records, and families enrolled in the study provided information about their babies’ breastfeeding status and diet at birth, and at three, six, 12, 18 and 24 months of age.

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