Could Breast Milk from Overweight Moms Play a Role in Childhood Obesity? Interview with:

Henry J. Nuss, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Public Health New Orleans, LA

Dr. Nuss

Henry J. Nuss, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center
School of Public Health
New Orleans, LA What is the background for this study?

Response: Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have been increasing within the past 30 years. We can point to things like sedentary lifestyle, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and savvy marketing techniques of large food corporations that target kids and their parents to buy food items that aren’t healthy. That said, we do know that women who have an unhealthy weight status (as measured by BMI ≥ 25) tend to have offspring that eventually attain an unhealthy weight status themselves. Aside from environmental factors, could this be due to maternal programming or perhaps something in the breastmilk? Or both? We saw some interesting research that showed breastfed infants/toddlers born to asthmatic moms were more likely to develop asthma. Furthermore, this association became stronger the longer the infants/toddlers were breastfed. The conclusion here is that it must be something in the breastmilk.

We knew that asthma and obesity are both inflammatory in nature and that there are specific pro- and anti-inflammatory and obesogenic bioactive compounds in human breastmilk. Some have been studied before but there were no studies at the time that tied all of the pieces together. If we could target specific compounds in the milk that were associated with unhealthy growth patterns in infants then we could perhaps be more specific in how we fight this problem. What are the main findings? 

Response: What our results showed is that, for the most part, the milk contents from the unhealthy weight moms was not wildly different from the normal weight moms for the specific compounds that we studied. But there were some differences.

Most notably, leptin concentrations were higher in the milk from the unhealthy weight moms. When we looked at infant growth measures, it appeared that only the infants from the healthy weight moms were showing a correlatable growth response to the various compounds in milk that we measured.

This led us to two possible conclusions.

1) Since leptin levels were higher in the milk of the moms with BMI ≥ 25, that may have been causing those infants to eat less and may be why we weren’t seeing any associations with infant growth.

2) The infants born to unhealthy weight moms were already programmed to grow at a different rate in response to breastmilk nutriture. What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: We are by no means suggesting that moms who have a BMI ≥ 25 should not breastfeed, but clearly we need to do more studies, especially longitudinally, so we can get better information to see if there are long term impacts. Our sample size was relatively small and homogeneous (it was a pilot study) and so we would be remiss to generalize our findings to a larger population. That said, it might be advisable for women of childbearing age who are considering starting a family to consider her weight status as a potential risk factor for the future development of her offspring.


Henry Nuss, Abby Altazan, Jovanny Zabaleta, Melinda Sothern, Leanne Redman.Maternal pre-pregnancy weight status modifies the influence of PUFAs and inflammatory biomarkers in breastmilk on infant growth. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (5): e0217085 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217085

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Last Updated on June 16, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD