Turns out, warding off childhood obesity is as easy as feeding babies breast milk.
According to a recent study from the Ewha Womans University College of Medicine in Seoul, breastfeeding may protect high birth weight infants from being overweight or obese as children.
“High birth weight is associated with overweight or obesity during early childhood. Among high birth weight infants, exclusive breastfeeding is a significant protective factor against overweight and obesity,” said lead author Hae Soon Kim.
High birth weight infants were very likely to meet the criteria for obesity or overweight through six years of age compared with normal birth weight infants. But the risk of becoming overweight or obese dropped significantly among high birthweight infants who were breastfed for first six months of life,” Kim added.
The study showed that the risk of being overweight or obese decreased significantly if high birth weight infants were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
In a retrospective cohort study, Kim and co-authors investigated the weight-growth trajectory and the protective effect of breastfeeding for obesity in children. They analysed data between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2016, from the National Health Information Database (NHID) of Korea.
The researchers followed 38,039 participants who were completely eligible for all health checkups from birth through six years of age. At each check-up period, the authors examined the association between birth weight status and growth development.
Infants were assigned to one of three groups by birth weight: the low birth weight group (less than or equal to 2,500 grams), the normal birth weight group (over 2,500 grams and under 4,000 grams), and the high birth weight group (4,000 grams or more).
During the follow-up period, about 10% of the low birth weight infants and 15% of the normal birth weight developed obesity or overweight. By contrast, more than 25% of the high birth weight infants met the criteria for obesity or overweight.
The high birth weight infants were highly likely to be overweight or have obesity compared with normal birth weight infants through six years of age, and the low birth weight infants were highly likely to be underweight through six years of age.
But the risk of being overweight or obese decreased significantly if high birth weight infants were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
“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,” the authors cautioned in their abstract.
The results were presented at ENDO 2018, the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Chicago, Ill.