Breastfed Kids Become Social Climbers
British Study: Breastfed Babies 41% More Likely to Be Social, Educated Adults
Feb. 14, 2007 -- Breastfed babies are likely to become better educated and
more upwardly mobile adults than their bottle-fed peers, according to a new
The study began in 1937 and tracked 1,414 British children into late
It found those breastfed as infants were 41% more likely to move up the
social ladder, according to Richard Martin, BM, BS, PhD, an epidemiologist at
the University of Bristol, in England, and an author of the study.
However, Martin is quick to offer a caveat: "It's very possible that the
effect is not due to breastfeeding per se, but something to do with the
mothers' choice to breastfeed, or the environment in which the child grew up
in, that may be more important," he tells WebMD.
At its start, the study included more than 3,000 children from 16 urban and
rural areas across England and Scotland, monitored from birth as part of the
Boyd Orr Study of Diet and Health in Pre-War Britain.
When the study began, the children were about 7 years old.
The social class of the children's head of household was noted -- classified
as professional and managerial, skilled, partly skilled, unskilled, or
The prevalence of breastfeeding ranged from 45% to 85%, but whether a mother
chose to breastfeed did not depend on household income, what the household
spent on food, the number of siblings, birth order, or the social class of the
family at the start of the study, the researchers found.
Follow-up questionnaires about educational achievements and social mobility
were sent out in 1997 and 1998, when study participants were in their 60s and
In the follow-up, researchers again asked about social class based on
Breastfeeding Time Counts
The 1990s surveys showed that breastfed infants were more likely to complete
secondary school; with 27% of breastfed versus 20% of bottle-fed
Breastfed babies were also more likely to move up in social class, based on
occupation. Fifty-eight percent of breastfed infants moved up, compared with
50% of bottle-fed ones.
Fifty percent of bottle-fed infants stayed in the same social class or went
downward, while only 42% of the breast-fed infants stayed the same or moved
The longer a child was breastfed, the more likely he or she was to be
Interpretation and Perspective
Martin's team says the findings could be explained by other studies'
findings that breastfeeding benefits brain development, leading perhaps to
better exam performance and job prospects.
Other studies have shown that breastfed infants enjoy a host of
health-related benefits, including lower risk of infections and protection
against chronic diseases and psychiatric disorders.
The study results are interesting, says Dennis Woo, MD, chairman of the
pediatrics department at Santa Monica -- UCLA and Orthopaedic Hospital, in
Santa Monica, Calif. "The bottom line is, we certainly should support
breastfeeding," he says.
But he notes that in pre-World War II days, when these study participants
were infants, formulas were often homemade "and probably inconsistent,"
and that could have affected the results.
Given the standardized commercial formulas prevalent today, Woo says he is
not sure the study findings would come out the same.
The study is published online ahead of print on Feb. 14, 2007, in the
Archives of Disease in Childhood.