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It’s science: Breastfeeding can help protect against childhood obesity

When it comes to hungry babies fed is always best, but the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics do want moms to try breastfeeding and be supported in breastfeeding because there are a ton of health benefits.

Now, we can add one more to the list as researchers in South Korea have found breastfeeding can protect high-birthweight babies from obesity later in childhood.

The study was funded by the Ministry of Health & Welfare of the Republic of Korea and looked at 38,039 babies who got health checkups from birth to age 6. The babies were categorized into three groups: low-birthweight (5.5 pounds or less) normal-birthweight (between 5.5 and 8.8 pounds) and high-birthweight (more than 8.8 pounds).

The study’s authors noted that only about 10% of the low-birthweight babies and 15% of the normal-birthweight were overweight by age 6, but more than 25% of the high-birthweight kids grew to meet the criteria for obesity or overweight.

They also found the risk of obesity decreased significantly among high-birthweight babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

“Among high-birthweight infants, exclusive breastfeeding is a significant protective factor against overweight and obesity," said lead study author Hae Soon Kim, M.D., of Ewha Womans University College of Medicine in Seoul.

The Korean study follows previous work examining the link between breastfeeding to lower rates of obesity. A Japanese study found children who were breastfed until six months were less likely to be obese at 7 or 8 than formula-fed peers, while the authors of a study of children in Belarus concluded breastfeeding didn’t make a significant difference in obesity rates.

In 2014 the authors of meta-analysis on the subject sought to make sense of conflicting studies. The researchers looked at 25 studies with a total of 226,508 participants, published in 1997 to 2014 and spanning 12 countries.

“The results indicate a protective effect of breastfeeding for childhood obesity, and prolonged breastfeeding is directly related to a decreasing risk of obesity,” they noted.

According to the WHO, the exact reasons why aren’t clear, but the link between breastfeeding and protection against childhood obesity is. The study out of Korea only strengthens the research and suggests that moms should be supported if choosing to breastfeed.

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