New South Korean research suggests that breastfeeding could have a protective effect against childhood obesity for high-birthweight infants, who are at a higher risk of developing the condition.
Researchers from Ewha Womans University College of Medicine in Seoul followed 38,039 babies from birth until the age of six.
The children were split in to one of three groups dependent on their birthweight. The low-birthweight group were born less than or equal to 2,500 grams; the normal-birthweight group, over 2,500 grams and under 4,000 grams; and the high-birthweight group, 4,000 grams or more.
During the six-year follow-up the team found that the high-birthweight infants were highly likely to be overweight or have obesity compared with normal birthweight infants.
On the other hand, the low-birthweight infants were highly likely to be underweight by 6 years of age.
In addition, the team also found that around 10 percent of the low-birthweight infants and 15 percent of the normal-birthweight infants became overweight or obese as children.
By contrast, more than 25 percent of the high-birthweight infants became overweight or obese.
However, the team also found that the risk of being overweight or obesity decreased significantly if high-birthweight infants were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
The findings now suggest that breastfeeding could be an effective way of helping to reduce the risk of obesity as early as possible in life, with the authors warning that, “The increase in the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity, which began in the 1970s, has grown into a global epidemic. Obesity persists from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood and is a leading cause of health problems.”
Previous research has also suggested that breastfeeding can provide children with many other health benefits, including a reduced risk of eczema, protection from pollution, improved brain growth, better childhood behavior, and a lower risk of childhood leukemia.
The results were presented in a poster on Sunday, March 18 at ENDO 2018, the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Chicago, USA.