Surprising Easy Solution for Preventing Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month Blog Carnival

This article was written for inclusion in the blog carnival hosted by Littlestomaks to promote awareness of childhood obesity as part of the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Please read to the end of this article to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Talk about childhood obesity and you are sure to be inundated by all kind of alarming statistics and cries for tax on soda, banning food ads on TV and regulating school nutrition. As a parent, you hardly have any control over any of these so-called solutions. Sure you can try to limit junk foods, encourage fruits and veggies and force your kids to sit down on the dinner table each night. It is a real challenge for nearly all toddler parents and success is not guaranteed, at least in the short term. If your child is already overweight or obese, you may have even a smaller chance of success and a clinical intervention may be needed to reverse the situation.

Is there a solution that can actually nip the problem of childhood obesity in the bud?

In my research, I was surprised to learn that there is indeed such a solution. Even more surprising was the fact that we don’t hear about it at all when solutions to stopping childhood obesity are discussed.

This surprising and simple solution is: Breastfeeding!

Piknikas
Creative Commons License photo credit: c r z

The benefits of breastfeeding are well known. It provides all the necessary nutrients for your child’s growth and builds his immune system for a foundation of healthy growth during the toddler years and beyond. But did you know that it also significantly lowers the chances of overweight or obesity? Consider, for example, this conclusion from a CDC report which addresses the question: Does Breastfeeding Reduce the Risk of Pediatric Overweight?

In conclusion, breastfeeding is associated with a reduced odds of pediatric overweight; it also appears to have an inverse dose-response association with overweight (longer duration, less chance of overweight). While more research is needed, exclusive breastfeeding appears to have a stronger effect than combined breast and formula feeding, and the inverse association between breastfeeding and overweight appears to remain with increasing age of the child. The three meta-analyses reported in these review articles suggest a 15% to 30% reduction in odds of overweight from breastfeeding.

This conclusion was based on three different studies which analyzed data from over 50 studies between 1970 and 2004. In case you need more convincing, consider the conclusions of this German study which appeared in the British Medical Journal in 1999:

Prolonged exclusive breast feeding reduced the risk of being obese or overweight among school age children in Bavaria who were born in the early 1990s. This effect is more likely to be related to the composition of breast milk than to lifestyle factors associated with breastfeeding. Preventing childhood obesity and its conse­quences may be an important argument in the drive to encourage breast feeding in industrialized countries.

Now there are purists in the academia who say that such conclusions are not based on randomized trials, which means that it cannot be proven with enough confidence that breastfeeding alone is a cause of reduction in chances of overweight or obesity. Rightly so, because there are confounding factors present in most of these studies. Although, the conclusion about breastfeeding and a reduced risk of overweight does not change even though it becomes a little weaker. From a practical point of view, it does not matter in my opinion and breastfeeding should still be promoted as a solution to preventing childhood obesity.

Although there is considerable debate about why breastfeeding lowers the risk of overweight or obesity, these three reasons are commonly cited:

  1. Breastfed babies develop better sense of when they are hungry and when they are full
  2. Formula-fed babies have a higher and more prolonged insulin response which stimulates more fat and weight gain
  3. Breastfed babies have a higher concentration of leptin, a hormone which regulates their appetite

If breastfeeding, and extended breastfeeding in particular, has such a protective effect on overweight or obesity in later life, why is this message not amplified in public media? How come the revised policy statement on breastfeeding by the American Academy of Pediatrics only casually mentions the benefit of breastfeeding for reducing the risk of obesity? If childhood obesity is such a huge problem, then the benefit of breastfeeding should be prominently highlighted. Why do they recommend exclusive breastfeeding for only 6 months, when extended breastfeeding to 9 or even 12 months of age show a significant risk of childhood obesity?

The rates of breastfeeding in the US are pathetically low. National average rate for exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months is only 11% (2004 data). Married women, older than 30 years with a college degree are more likely to continue breastfeeding until 12 months of age. There is clearly a need to increase the public awareness of this issue and tailor the message for different demographics of women.

During the month of September, which has been declared as the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we will surely hear a lot about junk food, soda, poor quality of school nutrition, too much TV and negligent parents. There will be a lot of focus on alarming numbers and renewed cries for more Government regulation. But where is the voice of reason addressing the need to actually prevent the crisis, rather than react to finding a miracle solution? I hope you will join me in giving support to such voices wherever they are. Promoting and supporting breastfeeding seems like a simple thing to do without having to spend too much money.

©2010 Littlestomaks.com

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Say NO to Childhood Obesity

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

7 Things Parents Say That Cause Eating and Weight Problems in Kids Michelle May, Physician and author of Eat What You Love Love What You Eat, highlights a few things parents say which can have unintended consequences (@EatWhatYouLove)

Childhood Obesity Kia Robertson of Today I Ate a Rainbow suggests that prevention of childhood obesity should start with education and educating parents about basics of healthy eating by breaking it into achievable parts (@eatingarainbow)

Childhood Obesity: A Reality Check Dr Susan Rubin, founder of BSF, suggests we change our approach to looking at childhood obesity (@DrSuRu)

Childhood Obesity: Prevention Starts in Infancy Nutrition expert Sarah Fennell reminds us that prevention is the best cure and offers a few tips to raise healthy eaters (@FoodFunHealth)

Giving Our Children a Chance at Health Registered dietitian Susan Dopart offers tips to parents for taking charge of their child’s health in the world of over-processed “kid foods” (@smnutritionist)

Healthy School Campaigns Works on Creating Healthy Food Environments A report on Chicago’s Healthy School Campaigns (HFC), a non profit dedicated to creating a healthy food environment in schools

How to Prevent and Manage Childhood Obesity Registered dietitian Jessica Levinson offers practical tips to prevent and manage childhood obesity (@JLevinsonRD)

Lessons I have Learned as a Mom Registered dietitian Alysa Bajenaru shares some of the lessons she has learned that have helped her develop a good understanding of what it takes to feed her kids (@InspiredRD)

Looking for a New Trend in Childhood Obesity? Registered dietitian Elizabeth Rahavi of the IFIC brings the focus back on family in the debate about childhood obesity (@FoodInsight)

Losing Weight: It Starts in Your Head Registered dietitian Cindy Williams reminds us of the power of attitude and mindset in losing weight and controlling obesity (@nutritionchic)

Making the Grade Registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak evaluates her son’s school programs on healthy eating and physical activity (@RMNutrition)

Obesity and GERD: A Family Affair Jan Gambino, author of Reflux 101, writes about the link between overweight and GERD

Parents, Let’s Take a Positive Approach to Childhood Obesity Registered dietitian Ashley Rosales from the Dairy Council of California encourages parents to take a positive approach in helping their kids build healthy habits

Revolutionize the Way Your Kids Eat in Five Easy Steps Sociologist Dr Dina Rose suggests we shift our focus from nutrition to eating habits if we are serious about solving childhood obesity (@DrDrRose)

Surprising Easy Solution for Preventing Childhood Obesity Research shows benefits of extended breastfeeding in reducing risk of childhood obesity (@TwinToddlersDad)

The Problem Behind Childhood Obesity Ken Whitman, Publisher of Organic Connections, points out that our national priorities concerning childhood obesity are misplaced and calls for a renewed focus on the health of our nations kids.

Yoga Gets Kids Moving Registered dietitian Danielle Omar has an interesting suggestion for solving childhood obesity – get your kids into yoga! (@2eatwellRD)

16 comments

  1. Sarah@FoodFunHealth

    When I gave birth to my now 9 month old boy in Hong Kong last year, the first question the nurse asked me after he was born was, “which brand of formula do you want us to give him?”. Horrified, I told her that I planned to breastfeed my baby. “That’s ok” she said, “we’ll give him some sugar water instead”. I had to insist that they not supplement him with any water, sugar water or formula and that I would exclusively breastfeed him. I even had to get our son’s pro-breastfeeding pediatrician to speak to the nursing staff to ensure they followed my request. I was extremely fortunate that my son took to breastfeeding relatively easily and that I’ve been able to continue breastfeeding him (he’s now 9 months old).
    The rates of breastfeeding in Hong Kong aren’t much better than in the US. Recent reports proclaim that 73% of babies in HK are breastfed upon discharge from hospital, but when you delve further the truth is that this statistic also includes any mother who ‘attempted’ to breastfeed in the hospital (regardless of whether she continued or not) AND includes all those babies who receive formula in addition to their breastfeeds. I’d be interested to know what the ‘exclusive breastfeeding’ rate really is, given I was the only one in the entire hospital who was exclusively breastfeeding her baby.
    I agree that the importance of both exclusive and extended breastfeeding needs to be readdressed as a public health strategy and that more support needs to be in place to help new mothers successfully initiate and maintain breastfeeding.

  2. Yosefa

    I am a radical breastfeeding advocate; however, how do we know that breastfeeding is the cause of the lower obesity rates? It sounds like a viable hypothesis could be that mothers who breastfeed are the same mothers who are more attentive to the health of their children.

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  7. Hello Yosefa
    You make a good point and this is what is meant by “confounding factors”. Research shows a similar, although a little weaker, effect of breastfeeding on lowering odds of overweight or obesity. The purist way would be to do a randomized trial in which some infants are breastfed while others are not. Then follow their obesity or overweight rates. Clearly, this is not ethical or possible.
    Other idea is to collect a very large amount of data and do very sophisticated statistical analysis to prove the point.
    To me, this is of interest to the academics who are supposed to keep arguing until the cows come home! I know because I used to be one of them in graduate school!
    From a practical point of view, it is quite clear that breastfeeding can have a protective effect. Why not promote it beyond the current “6 month” seemingly obligatory policy?
    Thank you for being an advocate! Please continue to pass the word around on breastfeeding and add the research about preventing childhood obesity.

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  9. Anonymous

    The health benefits of breastfeeding are well known and also helps you bond with your little one, even when time is limited. I have a 3 year old that is constantly taking my attention, but when I nurse my 4 month old that’s our special time to look at each other and enjoy our time together.

    It always blows my mind that breastfeeding number are so low despite the fact that it is so positive. It needs to be more of a norm in our society.

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  12. Kia

    Excellent post and I agree with you that we really need to look at Prevention!!! Everyone can make a difference one step at a time!

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  14. Maymama1

    What about mothers who physically can not breast feed at all, or can not breast feed exclusively? What about mothers who adopt? I agree that breast milk is highly nutritious, and I support mothers who are able to and choose to breast feed, but this “easy solution” would exclude a large number of families.

    • Hi:
      Your comment is a good reminder that no one solution fits all. Clearly, there is a need to be mindful of special needs. Thank you for making this excellent point. If you have any suggestions for such situations, I am all ears.

  15. Timothy

    Not true! All three of my children were breast fed and all three teens are overweight. They are overweight because they never exercise. I wasn’t breast fed as a baby and I was skinny all of my life up until my mid 30’s, when I injured my back and was no longer able to be active. When I was young, I played sports and was very active. Kids today need to get off the couch and get away from the computer desk and exercise. Timothy

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