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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Breastfed babies are slimmer adults
Breastfed baby
Breastfed babies are thinner in later life
Breastfeeding your baby can reduce its risk of childhood obesity by nearly a third and the benefits could last a lifetime.

Scientists say that if more mothers breastfed their babies obesity rates in adults could be slashed by 10-15% in future generations.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends women to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.

But recent studies show that a fifth of UK mothers who start breastfeeding stop within the first two weeks.


Breastfeeding is therefore potentially useful for population-based strategies aimed at obesity prevention

Dr John Reilly

Breast benefits

Although 69% of mothers initially breastfeed, 21% of these stopped within the first fortnight and another 36% within the next six weeks.

But in a research letter published in The Lancet, Scottish researchers studied 32,000 children and found that obesity was 30% less common among the breastfed babies.

Dr John Reilly and his team at the University of Glasgow's Department of Human Nutrition at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, said breastfeeding could be a useful tool in protecting future health.

The babies were studied up to the age of three

"Our findings suggest that breastfeeding is associated with a modest reduction in childhood obesity risk.

"They also suggest that the reduction in risk is present in early childhood, which is unexpected on the basis of evidence from animals.

"Breastfeeding is therefore potentially useful for population-based strategies aimed at obesity prevention, particularly with the other benefits that breastfeeding provides."

Follow-up studies

He said the link between formula milk and obesity was not clear, but that breast milk was thought to contain growth factors that inhibit body fat.

Breastfed babies are also thought to regulate their intake by controlling how much milk they take setting up behavioural feeding patterns for later life.

Dr Reilly's team studied the babies for three years, but he said they planned to continue watching their development. The children are now seven years old.

A previous study published in the British Medical Journal that 4.5% of bottle-fed babies were obese by the age of five or six, compared to just 2.8% of breast fed babies.

And a study last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association said breastfed babies were more likely to be thinner teenagers.

Brenda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said the new data said science was now proving what they had always suspected - that breast is best.

"Breastfeeding has obviously evolved because it is good for mothers and babies and it is good that science is proving this."

The NCT breastfeeding line has counsellors available each day between 8am-10pm on 0870 444 8708.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"Nutritionists warn that one in 10 children under the age of four is now obese"
See also:

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