The rate of children who have obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. In addition to increasing health problems in childhood, children who are overweight are also more likely to be overweight as adults. This can carry an increased risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and depression.
Researchers from China wanted to examine the association between breastfeeding and the risk of childhood obesity. The study, published in BMC Public Health, found that breastfeeding is associated with a significantly reduced risk of obesity in children.
The systematic review included 25 observational studies that evaluated the association between breastfeeding and childhood obesity in 226,508 children. The included studies had been completed in 12 different countries in Europe, Asia, and North America. The review found that:
A systematic review is considered a highly reliable form of research because it combines large pools of data. The higher the number of participants the more reliable the results are. However, the review is only as reliable as the studies that make it up. This systematic review included observational studies. These studies examine an intervention in a naturally-occurring environment. Researchers do not intervene but simply assess outcomes and try to account for factors that may influence the outcome. These types of trials can not determine cause and effect but suggest a possible connection.
Breastmilk can provide a better balance of nutrients than formula which may influence the child's eating habits in infancy and through childhood. Most organizations recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months of life, then continue to breastfeed for a year as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby. However, breastfeeding may not be possible for all babies or mothers. Talk to your doctor about nutrition choices for your baby and child. Regular checkups with the doctor will help make sure your child is growing as expected and getting proper nutrition.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Breastfeeding FAQs. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding/faqsbreastfeeding.html. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Yan J, Liu L, et al. The association between breastfeeding and childhood obesity: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2014 Dec 13;14:1267. Available at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/1267. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Michael Woods, MD