Bottle-fed babies are 25% more likely to end up obese, new research suggests.
The study of almost 30,000 children, led by the National Institute of Health in Portugal and promoted by the World Health Organisation, looked at breastfeeding rates for up to 22 countries. The UK was not included.
A higher prevalence of obesity was noted among all children who were never breastfed and/or were breastfed less than six months compared to those who were breastfed more than six months. The only exceptions were children raised in France and Ireland.
The infants who were exclusively bottle-fed were 25% more likely to be obese. Researchers also found that nursing babies for even just a little time may protect them from obesity.
Children with mothers who breastfed them for at least six months, but used bottles as well, were 22% less likely to be obese than those never breastfed.
Study authors believe that breastfeeding had a “protective” effect, reducing the chance of children becoming overweight.
While formula milk could impact weight because it is developed from cows’ milk which has higher levels of protein and could trigger the growth of fat cells.
Meanwhile, breast milk contains hormones which can help to regulate a baby’s energy balance.
The research paper forms part of the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) led by Dr João Breda, Head of the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases and his team and is being presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow.
“The promotion of breastfeeding presents a window of opportunity for obesity prevention policy to respond to the problem of childhood obesity in the European Region,” Dr Breda says.
“Existing national policies to promote breastfeeding practices and how these policies are developed, can lead some countries to be more or less successful in combating obesity.”
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
But in June last year 2018 the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) guidance published new guidance for mothers, claiming mums should not be shamed into breastfeeding and their choice to bottle feed must be respected.
The new stance by the RCM forms part of an ongoing debate about the best way to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
Last year Public Health England (PHE) launched a new tool, offering women help to breastfeed through Amazon Alexa.
The tool was created following a recent survey of 1,000 mothers that revealed nearly two thirds believe access to 24/7 support would make new mums more likely to have a positive experience of breastfeeding.
Last year, another professional body announced they believed the importance of breastfeeding should be taught to schoolchildren as young as 11.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) called for schools to teach children about the benefits of breastfeeding as part of compulsory personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons which are taught at secondary school.
Breastfeeding rates in Britain remain among the lowest in the world. While 73% of babies start off being breastfed, just 45% receive it after six weeks.
At six months, just 1% are being given only breast milk, as the WHO recommends.