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Breastfeeding Might Not Prevent Pre-Teen Obesity

Nursing exclusively has no effect on later weight, but many other benefits exist

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Although some previous studies suggested that breast-feeding exclusively for longer periods might curb childhood obesity, the researchers found no significant differences in body mass or in the risk of overweight or obesity when they followed up with the children about 12 years later, according to the study.

Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of the division of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said she doesn't think this study is the final word on whether breast-feeding might affect later weight.

Campbell noted that, unlike a U.S. population, which would be more diverse, most of the people in Belarus have the same ethnic and racial background. They also have universal health care, and a population with higher education levels than the United States. These differences make it difficult to translate these findings to a U.S. population, she said.

Of more concern, Campbell said, was the amount of overlap between the two groups. "Even women who weren't in the intervention group breast-fed, and in the breast-feeding-intervention group, not everyone breast-fed, so there was a lot of overlap," she said.

However, "breast-feeding alone isn't a cure-all," she said. When exploring breast-feeding's relationship with obesity, "you also need to think about the ongoing diet of the child, and how physically active the child is," she said. "There are so many factors in the environment that can change outcomes."

The many known benefits of breast-feeding include a reduced risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. This benefit is especially important in premature infants, Campbell said. Breast-feeding also is associated with a higher IQ and lower incidence of eczema.

And there are benefits for mom too. "Breast-feeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer," Campbell said. It also helps mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and offers a considerable cost savings compared to buying formula.

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