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Breastfed Babies Less Overweight

Weight Benefit Seen Even if Mothers Are Obese or Have Diabetes
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 26, 2006 -- Breastfed babies are less likely to grow into overweight children than those fed formula, even if their mothers are obese or have diabetes, research confirms.

Exclusively breastfed babies had roughly a 34% reduced risk of being overweight during childhood, compared to children exclusively formula-fed, according to a new analysis of data from a study involving more than 15,000 children.

The finding suggests breastfeedingbreastfeeding could help break the cycle of overweight and diabetes among children born to mothers with diabetes, says researcher Elizabeth J. Mayer-Davis, PhD.

"It is important for mothers who have diabetes or who are at risk for developing the disease to know that there are things that they can do for their children that can make a real difference," Mayer-Davis tells WebMD, adding that breastfeeding appears to be an important first step for reducing a child's risk for obesityobesity and related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Born at High Risk

More than 12.5 million children and teens in the U.S. are overweight, according to the latest government statistics, from 2003-2004. That accounts for 17.1% of children and teens aged 2 to 19.

The CDC reports that the percentage of young people in the U.S. considered overweight has more than tripled since 1980.

There has been a corresponding rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, a disease linked to overweight and obesity and once seen only rarely in children and teens.

It is now widely accepted that being breastfed helps protect babies from becoming overweight or obese later in life, Katherine Shealy, MPH, IBCLC, of the CDC tells WebMD.

One recent analysis of 17 studies found that every month of breastfeeding reduced the risk of childhood overweight by 4%. Babies breastfed for nine months had a 31% overall reduction in risk.

But it has not been clear from previous research if breastfeeding conveys similar protection to babies at higher risk of becoming overweight or developing diabetes due to family history.

15,000 Children in Study

Mayer-Davis analyzed data from the Harvard School of Public Health's Nurses Health Study II to help answer the question.

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