Breastfeeding reduces risk of child obesity by up to 25 percent, a new study finds
According to the World Health Organisation, we now know that breastfeeding reduces risk of child obesity by up to 25 percent.
According to the result of a major new study involving 16 different countries, the absolute most effective thing we can do that reduces risk of child obesity is to breastfeed.
It was experts from WHO who led the Europe-wide research, which found that as many as 77 percent of children across Europe were breastfed, but rates varied widely. For instance, the stats were pretty grim for Ireland, where 46 percent of mothers had never breastfed. In France, this number was significantly lower, at 34 percent.
WHO stands by their recommendation that that women should exclusively breastfeed for six months, if they can.
In order to conduct the large-scale study, data from nearly 30,000 children monitored as part of the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance initiative (Cosi) was analyzed. Launched in 2007, Cosi is continuously being updated and now receives data from about 40 countries on children aged six to nine.
In light of the results, WHO are now calling for more help and encouragement to women to breastfeed, as well as curbs on the marketing of formula milk which, said senior author Dr João Breda, misled women into thinking breast was not necessarily better.
“We need to see more measures to encourage breastfeeding, like properly paid maternity leave,” said Breda from the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.
“We need less inappropriate marketing of formula milk, which may lead some mothers to believe it is as good for babies as breast milk.”
After adjustment for demographics, children who were never breastfed were 22 percent more likely to be obese and those who had been breastfed for less than six months were 12 percent more likely to be obese than children who were breastfed for six months. In other words, the protection for children who were exclusively breastfed for six months – with no formula or weaning foods involved – was even higher, at 25 percent.
WHO’s paper, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow and published in the journal Obesity Facts, says there are a number of reasons breastfeeding would protect children from obesity. Exclusive breastfeeding delays the introduction of solid food, which may be high in energy. There is also some evidence that babies fed formula have higher insulin levels in their blood which can stimulate fat deposition.
Other factors could also include healthier lifestyles among families where women breastfeed. Regardless the reasons, women should be told that breastfeeding protects against obesity, Dr João Breda said. “Breastfeeding has a really strong protective effect. The evidence is there. The benefit is outstanding so we should be telling people."