Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Breast-feeding 'prevents obesity'
Breast-feeding could help prevent obesity in children
A huge survey has found striking evidence that mothers who feed their babies by breast end up with far fewer overweight and obese children.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that 4.5% of bottle-fed babies were obese by the time they reached five or six-years-old.
But only 2.8% of babies given only breast milk after birth were obese when they reached school age.
The study comes hard on the heels of research showing that British breast milk contains a wide variety of contaminants, some of them toxic.
But it reinforces advice that the benefits of breast-feeding still greatly outweigh any risks.
Researchers looked at 9,357 overweight or obese children from the German region of Bavaria as they reached school entry age, and quizzed their mothers on how they were fed in the months after birth.
After breast feeding for three to five months, the likelihood of obesity was only half that of a bottle-fed child.
And less than one per cent of those breast fed for more than a year became obese.
Programming children to be slim
Earlier studies suggest that breast-feeding may help "programme" children not to be obese.
Research found that bottle-fed children had far higher blood concentrations of insulin, the chemical that stimulates the laying down of fat cells.
Obesity while in childhood is known to be a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in later life.
Other research has shown that breast feeding for the first 15 weeks protects against both diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, ear and urinary tract infections and reduces blood pressure.
A spokesman for the National Childbirth Trust said there was strong evidence that breast-feeding protected children's health long after weaning.
She said: "This study reinforces the plentiful evidence demonstrating that breast-feeding is the ideal way of feeding a baby."
The government is still urging mothers to breast-feed, despite launching a probe into the level of contamination affecting British breast milk.
A World Wide Fund for Nature report suggested up to 350 contaminants had been found in various samples, including 42 times the safe level of toxic dioxins - the chemical at the heart of the recent Belgian meat scare.
Other chemicals identified came from suntan lotion and pesticides.
WWF point out that cow's milk, the only alternative, is likely to be equally contaminated.