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Breastfeeding May Protect Kids From Obesity

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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.

"We may not see the impact of infant feeding until later in life for reasons that are not at all clear," says Dietz, of the division of nutrition and physical activity at the CDC in Atlanta. "We don't know yet a lot of strategies that will prevent obesity, but breastfeeding seems like a very promising one. In addition to all the other reasons to breastfeed children, obesity prevention should be added to that list."

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