Early weaning linked to chronic diseases later in life: Study

Published on July 27, 2010 at 11:10 PM · No Comments

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Lack of breastfeeding in infancy may lead to chronic diseases later in life say researchers. At present 90% of people aged between 35 and 40 were not breastfed as babies.

According to the Australian National University research which analyzed the results of existing studies, chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, asthma, digestive diseases, childhood cancers and heart problems may have a common factor. Researcher Dr Julie Smith and her team found that infants who were prematurely weaned suffered more from chronic diseases as adults than those who were weaned later. She said, “The risk associated with lack of breastfeeding in infancy was 30 percent higher for many conditions compared to breastfed infants…We still don't fully understand the long-term implications of breastfeeding in infancy. But…more than one in 10 Australians will face heightened risk in later life because they were not breastfed.” She pointed out that inappropriate health policies and attitudes towards breastfeeding had begun in the post-war decades, when formula was promoted in hospitals.

The study is published in the international journal Public Health Nutrition.

For making breastfeeding the first choice, Dr. Smith says new mums need support from the hospital and community as well as from federal, state and territory governments. She said, “The universal health recommendation is around six months of exclusive breast feeding…With only half of women in Australia even making six months of breastfeeding, we have got a considerable way to go to make it possible for many women. Sometimes that is about parental leave.” Dr, Peta Harvey a co author of the study also says that paid maternity leave can play a crucial role in promoting breastfeeding. According to Carey Wood, from the Australian Breastfeeding Association, workplaces need to become more “breastfeeding-friendly”. She said, “Mothers who breastfeed should be applauded for helping reduce our national health bill, but there are barriers to returning to work and breastfeeding.”

Speaking for breastfeeding as an effective cost cutting measure Dr. Smith said, “Many public health measures to prevent chronic disease are ineffective or expensive to sustain. But being breastfed for a time in infancy reduces the long-term risk of chronic disease…Few other one-off preventative health interventions shows consistent, long-term effects in reducing chronic disease.”

Dr Smith said inappropriate health policies and attitudes towards breastfeeding had begun in the post-war decades, when formula was promoted in hospitals.

Posted in: Child Health News

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