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Breastfeeding May Protect Kids From Obesity

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In the same issue of the journal, another study by Mary L. Hediger, PhD, found that among 2,600 children aged 3-5, kids were three times more likely to be overweight if their mothers were either overweight or obese. The explanation could be related to either inherited traits, the environment, or a combination of both. In other words, it is possible that many children of overweight and obese mothers are overweight themselves because of improper diet and lack of exercise, not because their mothers did not breastfeed them.

"Yes, breastfeeding may help, but it's not the only factor that's going to help prevent overweight [children]," says Hediger. "If you are an overweight woman yourself and you have a child ... once you stop breastfeeding you have to make sure that child gets a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise. Breastfeeding is no 'magic bullet.' You're just going to have to stay vigilant."

Hediger, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, says both her study and the one by Gillman suggest that the effects of breastfeeding on obesity prevention are minor.

"Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only going to prevent a fraction of the obesity in children and adolescents," she says. "Certainly we would like to encourage all mothers to attempt breastfeeding, but if you can't do it or you have to stop because you have to go back to work you certainly are not condemning your child to a lifetime of overweight."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed their babies for the first year of life.

Gillman says while his group feels breastfeeding could be an important factor, women who don't breastfeed their children for personal or workplace reasons shouldn't feel guilty or powerless about their child's weight.

"We don't want moms to feel bad about their choices, we want them to be informed," he says.

Hediger adds that today's infant formulas provide adequate nutrition if breastfeeding is not possible for whatever reason.

William Dietz, MD, PhD, says the effects of breastfeeding may not be immediate, so any benefits -- like obesity prevention -- should not be ruled out. Dietz wrote an editorial accompanying both studies.

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