Breast-Feeding and Obesity: What’s the Real Deal?

To prevent obesity in kids, breast-feeding is clearly good. So is healthy nutrition and physical activity for the whole family.

Dr. Greene explores contradictory studies about breastfeeding and obesity…

It can be demoralizing when you get contradictory information about health.

Two studies in the May 16th, 2001 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) appear, on the surface, to contradict each other. A large study from Harvard found that babies fed mainly breast milk were significantly less likely to be overweight by age 14. And the longer kids were breast-fed, the lower the chance of later obesity.

The other study, from the NIH, found that breast-feeding had only a minor effect in preventing obesity in children ages 3 to 5 (only 16% less likely to be obese). The duration of breast-feeding made no difference. The biggest predictor of a child’s weight was not breast-feeding, but the mother’s weight.

The two studies both make sense to me: they looked at different children in different ways. Rather than arguing about breast-feeding versus mom’s fitness to prevent obesity, let’s embrace both! We have few enough ways to make sure kids don’t end up overweight. Breast-feeding is clearly good. So is healthy nutrition and physical activity for involved adults and for the whole family.

Published on: May 18, 2001
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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