You are here
Breastfeeding Fights Obesity
We have an epidemic of overweight people, adults and children in T&T. Lifestyle changes, ie, less exercise, more time spent in front of the TV and computer, and poor feeding habits are the reason for this. Poor feeding starts during pregnancy when many women gorge themselves and put on excessive amounts of weight resulting in fat babies. At birth some women choose not to breastfeed and choose formula which is associated with fatness. Early on in their life babies then begin to be stuffed with high caloric feeds, disguised as “baby food” and continue on with a diet high in “fast food” and empty calories. The result: significant numbers of children younger than six years of age are grossly overweight, ie, obese and the number continues to increase. Without help, these children will enter their teens having already suffered from over a decade of poor health. They will face chronic problems that, until recently, were seen only in adults, such as weight-related diabetes and joint problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and, later on in life, heart attacks and strokes, all because they are overweight.
Treating overweight people, children included, is almost impossible. Weight control programmes show little success among children, and as the years go by these children are more and more likely to grow up to be obese adults. To stem the epidemic of childhood overweight, prevention needs to begin long before children enter school or even preschool. If not possible during pregnancy, prevention should begin the day an infant is born. This is where breastfeeding comes in because breastfeeding reduces the risk of children becoming overweight. Breastfeeding has long been recognised as a proven disease prevention strategy for a multitude of illnesses in children: gastro, pneumonia, asthma, eczema, child abuse etc, as well as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and postnatal depression in women. Now that many of these childhood communicable diseases are under some form of control, the breastfeeding paradigm has shifted to the prevention of the chronic non-communicable diseases: obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular. Among its other well-documented effects, breastfeeding also has recently been found to play a foundational role in preventing children from becoming overweight. A key analysis, which included 61 studies and nearly 300,000 participants, showed that breastfeeding consistently reduced risks for overweight and obesity. The greatest protection is seen when breastfeeding is exclusive (no formula or solid foods) and continues for more than four months.
This breastfeeding-obesity link is now recognised by various key government agencies and professional groups, including WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Experts at the CDC in Atlanta estimate that 15 per cent to 20 per cent of obesity could be prevented through breastfeeding. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding with the addition of appropriate foods up to at least one year of age. WHO goes even farther and recommends breastfeeding for up to at least two years. Everyone recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, where possible. Several possible reasons have been identified for the protective effect of breastfeeding against obesity. n Breastfeeding is baby-centred and guided. Babies, not mothers or aunties, decide how much they need to eat. You can trust the baby to eat just exactly how much it needs to grow and develop. This is an amazing finding. Breastfed infants are better at self-regulating their intake. In addition, a mother cannot see how much milk their child is drinking, so they must rely on their infant’s behaviour, not an empty bottle, to signal when their infant is full. Breastfed babies eat only as much as they need.
- Breastfed infants are more likely than formula-fed infants to try and accept new foods. Acceptance of new foods is important because a healthy diet should include a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Because breast milk contains flavours from foods eaten by mothers, breastfed infants are exposed to a variety of tastes early in life. In contrast, artificial baby milk (formula) always tastes the same.
- Breastfeeding has different effects than formula-feeding on an infant’s metabolism and hormones such as insulin, which tells the body to store fat. Breastfed babies already have lower sugar levels and lower insulin levels by age four months. In addition, formula-fed infants tend to be fatter than breastfed infants at 12 months of age.
The major factor mitigating against using breastfeeding in the fight to prevent children and adults from becoming overweight is maternity leave. If governments are indeed serious about doing something about non-communicable diseases and the tremendous illness impact and economic cost that they cause society, a key factor is going to be extended maternity leave.In this scenario, the prohibition of junk advertising in favour of fast food and the provision of green spaces where children can play safely, while important, become secondary factors. The recent UNDP report indicating that local companies have not fully integrated corporate social responsibility policies into their operations adds significance to this problem.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.