Myth 23: Breastfeeding prevents obesity

1-23babybottle1According to David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Southampton, UK and professor of Cardiovascular in the Department of Medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University and one of the authors of the report, “A longer period of breastfeeding was associated with lower BMI (a measure for weight) at one year of age. This relationship disappeared by the age of 7 years.” Similarly, there was no significant difference in BMI at the age of 60 years associated with duration of breastfeeding.

These findings may help explain why some studies that examined breastfed infants during the first year of life suggested a protective effect of breastfeeding and obesity, whereas other studies that examined the relationship later in life have found no such effect.

The report appearing in the February edition of the Journal of Nutrition features Dr. Barker and other nutrition experts who presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting last year. The session, Infant Feeding and the Development of Obesity: What Does the Science Tell Us?, brought together international experts in the field of infant nutrition to present their recent research that employed new methodology such as randomized clinical trials (involving breastfeeding promotion) as well as sibling pair analysis . Another session presenter, Michael Kramer, M.D., pediatrician and perinatal epidemiologist at McGill University, reported findings from his breastfeeding promotion intervention trial that support Dr. Barker’s results. Dr. Kramer’s research found that while breastfeeding promotion increased breastfeeding it did not reduce the development of obesity at 6.5 years of age..

Dr. Barker, whose study examined breastfeeding in a large group of sibling pairs that were followed into their late 60s, stated, “This type of study design controls for maternal factors. Differences in the long-term effects of breast and bottle feeding may reflect differences in the mothers rather than the effects of feeding itself.” Maternal factors include maternal health status, maternal care-giving, mother–child interactions or other health-related behaviors of the mother that may interfere with determining the association of infant feeding and health outcomes and the strength of any possible associations. Additionally, he added that his study augments the current literature on infant feeding, as “few studies have examined whether the duration of breastfeeding is associated with fatness in adult life.”

Other researchers featured in the report include Linda Adair, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Beth Mayer-Davis, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Nancy Butte, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

For the full supplement report, which will be released on January 16, please visit


Experimental Biology is a multi-society, interdisciplinary, scientific meeting attended by 12,000 independent scientists and sponsored by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). This research was presented as part of the American Society for Nutrition section of FASEB on April 9, 2008.

*This conference was sponsored by IFC, an international association of manufacturers and marketers of formulated nutrition products (e.g., infant formulas and adult nutritionals), whose members are predominantly based in North America. IFC members are: Abbott Nutrition; Mead Johnson Nutritionals; Nestle Nutrition – USA; and Wyeth Nutrition.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by the International Formula Council. That is not to say that the science is in any way manipulated or false. But all good Mommy Mythbusters are critical media consumers and soberly consider any bias that may be inherent in the nature of the studies being performed. The same goes for reading studies reported by the Environmental Working Group and other organizations that have a defined mission. We read for information, but remain open to hearing all sides.

6 Responses

  1. I find it interesting that it is merely a footnote that this article is written by the Intl. Formula Council whereas almost the entire basis of the car seat myth-busting article revolves around the fact that only the car seat industry has sponsored car seat safety studies. I can’t say I know the science or have done the research, but I do notice a gaping hole about the effects of formula and obesity. I would venture to guess such a study was not presented at the conference.

  2. BY EDITOR in response to previous comment:
    The difference between the two articles is that the “carseat myth-busting article” was written by me, the blog author, the other was written by the International Formula Council… as is clearly stated in the Editor’s Note.

    Also, it is important to point out that this article does not in any way attempt to diminish the value of breastfeeding, it simply states that the myth that infants who were breastfed will not later become obese is incorrect. Anyone can become obese, breastfed or not.

  3. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Are you tension? panic?

  4. There are several observations that support the idea that infants accelerated growth leads to obesity and CVD. This article brings some of them:
    There are some research papers that link breastfeeding with obesity, including one done on siblings to rule out any social bias, which states that by the age of 14 (on average) breastfed babies have 40% less chance of being overweight.
    In my opinion, this myth is not busted.

  5. I think a major part of the problem with these studies, and others relating to breastfeeding, is that formula is treated as the “norm” and the studies merely look for “benefits” of breastfeeding. The fact is the *breastfeeding* is the norm and these studies should be approached as the risks of formula feeding. Statistically formula feeding carries a 40% increased risk of obesity. Another factor is whether or not the study distinquished between exclusive breastfeeding and partial breastfeeding, and distinquished between breastmilk in a bottle and breastmilk only from the source. This makes a difference because the breastmilk itself isn’t the only factor. Bottom line, I would never trust formula companies to give any sort of breastfeeding information, just like I wouldn’t trust cigarette company research on preventing lung cancer. It’s bad mythbusting and it diminishes the integrity of this site.

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