Breastfeeding for over 6 months may prevent childhood obesity

HAMBURG, Germany — Breastfeeding children for more than six months may lead to them having less body fat when they turn nine years of age. A recent study finds that delaying the introduction of sugary drinks until young children are at least 18 months may decrease the risk of childhood obesity.

The results reveal that children breastfed for six months or longer had a significantly lower percentage of body fat nearly nine years later compared to those breastfed for shorter durations or not at all. Similarly, children who did not consume sugary beverages until after 18 months showed a lower fat mass at age nine.

The research team from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus analyzed data from over 700 mother-child pairs participating in the Healthy Start study. This U.S.-based study examines how a mother’s lifestyle and environment during pregnancy can influence her child’s growth and development.

At the outset, the mothers’ average age was 29, with 51 percent of their children being males. During interviews conducted when their children were six and 18 months-old, respectively, the mothers provided details about their feeding practices. This included the duration of breastfeeding, when they introduced formula, and the age they began giving their children complementary foods and fizzy drinks.

Most infants (65%) were breastfed for at least six months. Almost three-quarters (73%) began eating complementary foods at five months or later, and over four-fifths (86%) first tasted fizzy drinks after 18 months.

“In this study, we aimed to expand on this prior research by examining associations of infant feeding practices with a more precise measure of childhood adiposity (percent fat mass),” says Dr. Catherine Cohen, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Colorado, in a media release.

Mother breastfeeding baby
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Researchers assessed the children’s body fat percentage twice during the study, first at an average age of five and then at nine. Their findings indicate that although infant feeding patterns didn’t correlate with body fat percentages at age five, those introduced early to sugary drinks and breastfed for shorter durations had a more rapid increase in body fat between the two assessments.

By age nine, infants breastfed for under six months exhibited 3.5 percent more body fat than those breastfed longer. Similarly, those introduced to fizzy drinks before 18 months had about 7.8 percent more body fat by age nine than those who first had these drinks at 18 months or later.

“Our findings add to the larger body of evidence supporting the potential health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their children. Additionally, it stresses the importance of delaying a child’s introduction to soda, a high-calorie beverage with no nutritional merit,” says Dr. Cohen. “They also support the potential importance of delaying a child’s introduction to soda – an energy-dense beverage with no nutritional value during this vulnerable life stage.”

Researcher presented their findings at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Hamburg, Germany.

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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report. 

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