Research News

Breast feeding is unlikely to control childhood obesity

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 13 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1610


Breast feeding is good for babies but is unlikely to halt the obesity epidemic in children, say researchers. Longer and more exclusive breast feeding in infancy had no impact on any measure of body fat later in childhood in a large trial from Belarus that started in 1996. The trial tested an intervention to encourage exclusive breast feeding of healthy singleton babies, and it worked. But the extra breast feeding, which was substantial, didn’t prevent overweight or obesity a decade later and made no discernible difference to children’s body mass index, measures of fat mass and lean mass, skin fold thickness, or waist circumference.

More than 17 000 mothers and babies took part in the original trial. Mothers attending clinics that promoted breast feeding were seven times more likely than control mothers to be breast feeding exclusively at three months (43.3% v 6.4%). They were still more likely than control mothers to be breast feeding at 12 months (19.7% v 11.4%), although not exclusively. The researchers kept track of four fifths of the children, to a median age of 11.5 years.

This long term follow-up from a carefully controlled trial overturns results from many observational studies reporting an inverse association between breast feeding in infancy and adiposity in childhood, say the researchers. We must continue to promote breast feeding, but will have to look elsewhere for an answer to childhood obesity.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1610