Intended for healthcare professionals


Duration of breast feeding and arterial distensibility in early adult life: population based study

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 17 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:643
  1. C P M Leeson, research fellow (cpm_leeson{at},
  2. M Kattenhorn, vascular technicianb,
  3. J E Deanfield, professorb,
  4. A Lucas, professora
  1. a Medical Research Council Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH
  2. b Vascular Physiology Unit, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London WC1N 3JH
  1. Correspondence to: C P M Leeson


    Objectives: To test the hypothesis that duration of breast feeding is related to changes in vascular function relevant to the development of cardiovascular disease.

    Design: Population based observational study.

    Setting: Cambridge.

    Participants: 331 adults (171 women, 160 men) aged between 20 and 28 years, born in Cambridge Maternity Hospital.

    Main outcome measures: Distensibility of brachial artery, type and duration of infant feeding, current lipid profile, and other cardiovascular risk factors.

    Results: The longer the period of breast feeding the less distensible the artery wall in early adult life, with no sex differences (regression coefficient = —3.93 μm/month, 95% confidence interval —7.29 to —0.57, P=0.02). However, in those breast fed for less than four months, arterial distensibility was not significantly reduced compared with an exclusively formula fed group. The vascular changes observed were not explained by alterations in plasma cholesterol concentration in adult life.

    Conclusions: Breast feeding in infancy is related to reduced arterial function 20 years later. These data should not alter current recommendations in favour of breast feeding, which has several benefits for infant health. Further work is needed, however, to explore the optimal duration of breast feeding in relation to cardiovascular outcomes.


    • Funding The work was funded by the Medical Research Council. All work in the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital also benefits from NHS research and development funding.

    • Competing interests The centre has collaborated with the infant food industry for its outcome studies on nutrition.

      View Full Text