Breast feeding lowers child's obesity risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Mothers who breast-feed their infant may help reduce the child's risk of becoming obese, even mothers who have diabetes and are obese, according to the findings of a study published in the October issue of Diabetes Care.

The results of a previous large study found that breast-feeding had a protective effect against excess weight gain in adolescence - and that the protective effect increased the longer the infant was breast-fed. For the current study, Dr. Elizabeth J. Mayer-Davis, of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and colleagues examined if this protective effect is reduced if the mother had diabetes or was obese during pregnancy.

The 15,253 subjects were an average of 12 years old. Overall, 13.4 percent were considered to be at risk for becoming overweight and 6.7 percent were already overweight. The investigators report that 56.4 percent of the mothers of these subjects were not diabetic and normal weight; 40.5 percent were not diabetic and overweight; and 3.1 percent had preexisting diabetes or developed gestational diabetes.

After adjusting the data for other possible risk factors such as age, sex and pubescent development, the adolescents who were exclusively breast-fed as infants had a statistically significant reduced likelihood of being overweight compared with those who were exclusively formula-fed. The risk was not affected by maternal weight or diabetes status.

The effect was lessened after the data were adjusted again for the effect of other risk factors, but the lack of effect of the mother's weight and diabetes on childhood obesity remained.

"It is possible that the beneficial effects of breast-feeding may contribute to breaking the cycle of overweight and diabetes, which may occur among offspring of diabetic mothers," Mayer-Davis and colleagues suggest.