KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 — A major study involving 16 countries has concluded that breastfeeding is capable of reducing the chance of a child becoming obese by up 25 percent.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted a Europe-wide research which looked at nearly 30,000 children as part of the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance initiative (COSI).
Launched in 2007, COSI is continuously being updated and currently receives data from 40 countries on children aged six to nine.
The research found that more than 77 percent of children across Europe were breastfed, but rates varied widely. In Ireland, 46 percent of mothers had never breastfed. In France, that number was nearly 34 percent. WHO recommends that if possible, women should exclusively breastfeed for six months.
16.8 percent of children who were never breastfed were found to be obese, compared with 13.2 percent who had been breastfed at some time and 9.3 percent of children breastfed for six months or more.
After adjustment for demographics context, children who were never breastfed were 22 percent more likely to be obese. Those who had been breastfed for less than six months were 12 percent more likely to be obese than children who were breastfed for six months.
The protective effective for children who were exclusively breastfed for six months (no formula or weaning foods involved) was higher, at 25 percent.
The paper published in the journal Obesity Facts, states that there are a number of reasons breastfeeding would protect children from obesity.
Exclusive breastfeeding delays the introduction of solid food, which may be high in energy. There is also some evidence that babies fed formula have higher insulin levels in their blood which can stimulate fat deposition.
WHO is calling for more encouragement to women to breastfeed, and for curbs to be placed on the marketing of formula milk, which has allegedly misled women into thinking breast was not necessarily better.