Breastfeeding may Prevent Obesity in Childhood

May 8, 2019
Amy Reyes

Infants who are not breastfed, or infrequently breastfed, have an increased risk of becoming obese, shows a WHO study presented last week at the European Conference on Obesity (ECO) held in Glasgow.

Infants who are not breastfed, or infrequently breastfed, have an increased risk of becoming obese, shows a WHO study presented last week at the European Conference on Obesity (ECO) held in Glasgow.

“The longer a child is breastfed, the greater their protection from obesity," said Bente Mikkelsen, M.D., in a press release. He is director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases for WHO Europe.

"This knowledge can strengthen our efforts in preventing obesity. Acting on childhood obesity―including severe obesity–can have major benefits, not only for child health and well-being, but also for national health care systems, so we must do all we can to promote and protect breastfeeding across the Region,” he said.

The study found that despite global guidelines on the importance of breastfeeding, the adoption of these guidelines in the European region falls below the recommended levels. WHO presented a second study at the meeting finding that 400,000 of 13.7 million children between 6-9 years old, suffer from severe obesity. The study included data from 21 countries.

"The adoption of exclusive breastfeeding is below global recommendations and far from the target endorsed by WHO member states…of increasing the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months up to at least 50 percent by 2025," authors stated in the study.

THE STUDY’S FINDINGS

The study is based on data from 22 countries in the WHO European COSI study. It included an analysis of 100,583 children between the ages of 6-9 years old.

The highest prevalence of obesity was in Spain (17.7%), Malta (17.2%) and Italy (16.8%), which corresponded with the highest rates of obese children who were never breastfed:  21 percent in Spain and 21.2 percent in Malta and Italy.

In France, Ireland and Malta, only one in four children were breastfed for at least six months.

Tajikistan had the highest rates of children who were breastfed for at least six months and exclusively breastfed for at least six months.

Researchers also found that in 11 of 22 countries, babies of higher birth weight had a higher risk of being overweight. In Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Poland and Romania, the data showed that preterm infants were more likely to be obese as they aged as compared to full-term infants.

REFERENCE

Rito AI, Buoncristiano M, Spinelli A., et al. "Association between Characteristics at Birth, Breastfeeding and Obesity in 22 Countries: The WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative - COSI 2015/2017," Obesity Facts. April 29, 2019. DOI: 10.1159/000500425.

"New WHO studies: Europe battles childhood obesity and experts confirm breastfeeding protects against child obesity," WHO Europe news release April 30, 2019.

 

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