Can Breastfeeding help Prevent Childhood Obesity?

The number of adults and children who are obese is rising every day and is predicted to grow to approximately 44 percent of all people in the next few years. A child who is obese is likely to be obese as an adult. Twenty percent of children in America are obese and it is becoming increasingly evident that this problem can begin as an infant. Fortunately, studies show that there is a strong correlation between breastfeeding and the prevention of childhood obesity.

Scientific Studies Regarding Breastfeeding

It has been widely known, and for good reason, that breastfeeding a baby is the healthiest way to feed them. Studies that have been conducted for over 30 years show that preventing a child from becoming overweight can start with breastfeeding. It can reduce the chances of the baby becoming overweight as a child and into adolescence. The research from these studies also reveals that the longer a child is breastfed the less likely he or she is to be overweight. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that babies should be breastfed for the first six months, after which solid foods can be slowly introduced into their diets.

Breastfeeding and Obesity

What is the connection between breastfeeding and prevention of obesity? One of the explanations that has come from these many studies has to do with the amount of milk the baby will take in during feeding. Even if there is a large supply of breast milk due to the use of a breast pump, the typical baby will take only the amount that they need to stay nourished. Breast milk provides all of the nutrients that an infant requires. The milk actually changes its composition as the child develops. In other words, it is the perfect diet for a baby.

On the other hand, babies who are fed formula tend to drink a larger volume as they get older. This shows that formula may not promote as much self-regulation as babies who are breastfed. These two different behaviors in feeding can explain eating habits that come later in development that result in consuming too many calories and gaining weight.

Influence of Hormones

Another explanation for breastfeeding preventing obesity involves hormones that are connected to metabolism. These hormones are ghrelin, which fuels the appetite, and leptin that provides the feeling of being full. Babies who are fed formula have been found to have levels of ghrelin that are higher than breastfed infants and lower levels of leptin. These and three other hormones have been studied and it is suggested that they may protect against obesity later on in life.

Breast milk also contains less protein than both cow’s milk and formula. Some studies indicate that too much protein other than what is found in mother’s milk may be related to obesity in infants.

One study of adolescents showed that those who were only or mostly fed breast milk for the first 6 months of their lives were 22 percent less likely to become overweight. The results of continued studies done on the relationship of obesity and breastfeeding are consistent and provide convincing evidence that breastfeeding versus formula is the best choice for not just preventing obesity but for overall health, growth and development of the infant.

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