New Research Shows Childhood Overweight and Obesity Linked to
Non-Breastfeeding and Early Introduction of Solid Food
Wednesday May 2nd 2012 – New findings based on the Growing Up in Ireland study and published today in the Journal Social Science and Medicine show that children who are breastfed and weaned onto solid foods later have a lower risk of obesity at age 9.
The research, conducted by Dr Cathal McCrory and Professor Richard Layte of the ESRI, is based on data from Growing Up in Ireland – the National Longitudinal Study of Children. (A fully copy of the article is available to download at http://www.esri.ie/pubs/jacb201219.pdf)
- Previous research using the Growing Up in Ireland study (GUI) has shown that around a quarter of 9 year old children in Ireland are overweight or obese (19% overweight, 7% obese). This is a concern because obese children are more likely to become obese adults, and obesity is associated with a range of chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke. GUI research shows a similar pattern holds for 3 year old children with 19% overweight and 6% obese.
- Based on the experience of 9-year-old children in Growing Up in Ireland today’s new findings show that children who have been breastfed for three to six months are 38% less likely to be obese at 9 years of age compared to exclusively formula fed children. Those breastfed for six months or more are 51% less likely. These results adjust for a large number of factors including parental weight status.
- International research shows that patterns of growth in early infancy have implications for children’s risk of obesity in childhood as well as their risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adulthood. Whilst premature and/or low birth weight children usually experience ‘catch-up growth’, rapid growth among children in the normal weight range is a marker of later risk of obesity and disease.
- Previous research using the GUI Infant Cohort shows that breastfed infants and those weaned onto solid foods later are less likely to experience rapid weight gain and have a lower risk of obesity at age 3.
- WHO guidelines recommend that children should be exclusively breastfed where possible and not introduced to solid foods for the first six months of life.
- Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rate in Europe. Growing Up in Ireland data show that 55% of new mothers in Ireland breastfeed to some extent but only 38% are still breastfeeding after a month. Less than 15% are still breastfeeding by six months.
- Almost half (46%) of infants are weaned onto solid foods by 4 months of age and less than a third of children in Ireland are weaned after the guideline period of six months.
- Increasing rates of breastfeeding and later weaning would reduce obesity rates among children in Ireland and improve population health and life expectancy in future decades. Rates of breastfeeding have been rising but are still very low when compared internationally. There are no reliable data on trends in weaning behaviours but parents need to be informed of the dangers to the child’s current and future health of introducing solids too early.
Speaking on today’s findings, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Ms Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., said: “The short-term benefits of breast feeding are well recognised. This research adds to the growing evidence that the benefits of breast feeding extend to later life. Breast fed babies have a better chance of avoiding obesity in later childhood. If we are to reverse the worrying trend of childhood obesity in Ireland, promoting and increasing rates of breast feeding must be part of our policy response”.
Also commenting, the author of the research, Professor Richard Layte, ESRI, said: “Obesity is a serious problem in Ireland. We have some of the highest rates of child and adult obesity in Europe and we need to understand the causes better. Our study suggests that early life nutrition may be a key issue for improving health and reducing obesity.”
Growing Up in Ireland is a Government funded study following the progress of almost 20,000 children and their families – a Child Cohort of 8,568 children interviewed at nine years and 13 years of age and an Infant Cohort of 11,134 children participating at nine months and three years of age. The study is being conducted by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. Those wishing to find out more about the study or today’s event can visit the study’s website www.growingup.ie
Claire Delaney, Growing Up in Ireland
Tel: 01 863 2053 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Richard Layte
Research Professor, ESRI
Tel: 086 3354444