Health Care Costs of Formula-feeding in the First Year of Life

Thomas M. Ball, Anne L. Wright
PEDIATRICS Vol. 103 No. 4 April 1999, pp. 870-876


Objective. To determine the excess cost of health care services for three illnesses in formula-fed infants in the first year of life, after adjusting for potential confounders.

Methods. Frequency of health service utilization for three illnesses (lower respiratory tract illnesses, otitis media, and gastrointestinal illness) in the first year of life was assessed in relation to duration of exclusive breastfeeding in the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study (n = 944) and the Dundee Community Study (Scottish study, n = 644). Infants in both studies were healthy at birth and represented nonselected, population-based samples. Children were classified as never breastfed, partially breastfed, or exclusively breastfed, based on their feeding status during the first 3 months of life. Frequency of office visits and hospitalizations for the three illnesses was adjusted for maternal education and maternal smoking, using analysis of variance. Cost estimates, from the perspective of the health care provider/payer, were based on the direct medical costs during 1995 within a large managed care health care system.

Results. In the first year of life, after adjusting for confounders, there were 2033 excess office visits, 212 excess days of hospitalization, and 609 excess prescriptions for these three illnesses per 1000 never-breastfed infants compared with 1000 infants exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months. These additional health care services cost the managed care health system between $331 and $475 per never-breastfed infant during the first year of life.

Conclusions. In addition to having more illnesses, formula-fed infants cost the health care system money. Health care plans will likely realize substantial savings, as well as providing improved care, by supporting and promoting exclusive breastfeeding.

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