Breastfeeding Helps Prevent Overweight Teens
March 07, 2006
Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States, with 31 percent of adults and around 15 percent of teens now obese by medical definition.
Obesity is a serious health concern, being linked with problems such as diabetes and heart disease, and with a shorter life expectancy.
This obesity epidemic has occurred along with low levels of breastfeeding, but links between the two have been hard to study. This is mainly because mothers who breastfeed tend to have higher education levels and higher incomes, both linked to less weight problems in their offspring.
Dr. Matthew Gilman surveyed over 5,000 children aged between 9 and 14 and was able to compare siblings who had been breastfed for different durations.
He found that, even within a single family, children who were breastfed for a longer period were less likely to become obese in the teen years, and that this advantage increased with the duration of nursing.
Gilman and colleagues estimate that, for every 4 months of extra breastfeeding, the risk of teen obesity was reduced by 6 percent. For example, an infant breastfed to age 1 has a 24 percent lower chance of teen weight problems than a baby weaned soon after birth.
Dr. Gilman suggests that breastfeeding may have lasting positive effects on body metabolism and may also allow children to self-regulate their intake: a skill that may help them to keep a normal weight life-long.