Breast feeding and obesity: cross sectional study

In industrialised countries obesity and being overweight are the most frequent nutritional disorders in children and adolescents, and there is a continuing increase in their prevalence. Overweight children have a high risk of being overweight in adulthood and therefore are also at risk from the associated health complications such as hypertension and coronary heart disease. Since therapeutic interventions aimed at encouraging weight loss in obese children are costly and have long term success rates that are less than satisfactory, the identification of strategies for the effective prevention of obesity is particularly attractive.

Simple strategies without potential side effects are the most appealing. Breast feeding would fulfil these criteria. However, the impact of breast feeding on obesity has only been studied in comparatively small cohorts. These small studies failed to find a protective effect possibly due to a lack of statistical power, whereas a protective effect has been reported in a Canadian cross sectional study of 1320 adolescents born in the late 1960s. The rates of breast feeding were low in Canada at that time, and lifestyles in industrialised countries have changed considerably over the past three decades. We have therefore studied the impact of breast feeding on the prevalence of being overweight or obese in children born in the early 1990s.
BMJ 1999;319:147-150

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