Breastfeeding Linked To Modest Reduction In Childhood Obesity

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Lisa J. Martin PhD

Professor Division of Human Genetics
Jessica G. Woo PhD
Associate Professor Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Cincinnati, OH

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study?

Response: Obesity is a major public health concern. In the past 30 years, more and more children are being considered obese. Because treatment is challenging, researchers are looking toward prevention. The health benefits of breastfeeding over infant formula feeding are well recognized, including evidence that breastfeeding may protect against obesity. But, how much protection it provides and the reasons for protection are unclear. Thus, the purpose of this paper was to examine the relationship between breastfeeding and reduced risk of obesity later in life, with special emphasis on potential mechanisms.

MedicalResearch: What are the main findings?

Response: After reviewing more than 80 studies conducted over a period of 20 years, the authors showed that breastfeeding is associated with a 10 to 20 percent reduction in obesity prevalence in childhood. Mechanisms that connect human milk and infant physiology include maternal obesity, development of a healthy gut environment (microbiome) in the infant, and the development of taste preference and diet quality. Importantly, each of these mechanisms can be influenced by biologic and social factors which may directly and indirectly affect the child’s obesity risk.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Breastfeeding should be considered the optimal food source for infants for many reasons, but not as a primary obesity prevention strategy. However, the decision to start breastfeed is not random. Mothers, who choose to try to breastfeed, may have a social support network that encourages breastfeeding as well as other healthy lifestyle choices. It is also important to recognize that continuing to breastfeed is not trivial. External challenges such as sufficient milk volume and a work environment not supportive of breastfeeding may derail the efforts of many mothers.

So, both clinicians and patients need to realize that encouraging breastfeeding among those not otherwise inclined, without improvement in maternal diet, physical activity and other healthy lifestyle factors, may have limited impact on childhood obesity. Notably, these healthy lifestyle improvements may have mutual impact for both mother and baby.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Several future research directions were identified. Specifically, additional work is required on understanding of human milk composition and how it is influence by maternal factors including obesity and diet.

Second, how the infant gut develops in response to feeding is incompletely understood and may serve as a key to prevention.

Third, observational studies will need to better quantify milk exposure accounting for volume and quality. Lastly, cross disciplinary research is essential. The relationship between breastfeeding and childhood obesity is complex and likely the result of many factors.

Citation:

Jessica G. Woo, Lisa J. Martin. Does Breastfeeding Protect Against Childhood Obesity? Moving Beyond Observational Evidence. Current Obesity Reports, 2015;
DOI: 10.1007/s13679-015-0148-9

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MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Lisa J. Martin PhD
Professor Division of Human Genetics Jessica G. Woo PhD
Associate Professor Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Cincinnati, OH (2015). Breastfeeding Linked To Modest Reduction In Childhood Obesity