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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 02:18 GMT 03:18 UK
Breast-fed babies 'are thinner teenagers'
A baby
Studies strongly suggest the benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfed babies are less likely to be overweight later in childhood, an American study suggests.

It found that of the youngsters fed on breastmilk 4% of the girls and 7% of the boys were overweight compared to 6% of the girls and 11% of the boys given mostly formula.

Overweight children and teenagers are far more likely to go on to be overweight or obese adults - which places them at far greater risk of health problems.


Once present, obesity is hard to treat. For these reasons, prevention is paramount

Dr Matthew Gillman, Harvard Medical School
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is yet more evidence of the potential benefits of breastfeeding.

Between 60% and 90% of UK women start breastfeeding after birth - although many give up soon afterwards and revert to bottle feeding.

Dr Matthew Gillman, from Harvard Medical School, the lead author in the study, said: "Once present, obesity is hard to treat. For these reasons, prevention is paramount."

Gillman analysed questionnaires filled out by 8,186 girls and 7,155 boys aged nine to 14.

About 5% of the girls and 9% of the boys were defined as overweight.

When their mothers were questioned, they found 62% of the children had been fed only or mainly breast milk for the first six months of life, with the remainder fed only or mostly formula milk.

20% less risk

Among those mostly breast fed, 4% of the girls and 7% of the boys were overweight compared to 6% of the girls and 11% of the boys given mostly formula.

These results were adjusted to take account of possibly interfering factors such as physical activity, calorie intake, and the mother's body mass index.

The end results were that infants breast-fed more than they were fed formula or who were breast-fed for longer periods had approximately a 20% lower risk of being overweight in childhood or their teenage years.


This is just another piece of evidence which shows that breast milk is good for them

Belinda Phipps
National Childbirth Trust
Dr Gillman suggested that breast milk might provide early "metabolic programming".

In the UK, the National Childbirth Trust has been running a week devoted to raising awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding.

Belinda Phipps, from the trust, said: "This is just another piece of evidence which shows that breast milk was designed for humans, and as such, is good for them."

She added: "However, a lot of women do give up after initially attempting to breast feed.

"They have got to understand that breastfeeding is a skill which they - and the baby - have to learn. This can take a few days."

The National Childbirth Trust runs a telephone helpline for women attempting to breastfeed.

It is manned between 8am and 10pm and the number is 0870 4448708.

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