Does This Formula Make Me Look Fat? Breast-Feeding and Childhood Obesity

Filed under: Breast-Feeding, Opinions

Breast-feeding is Weight Watchers for the stroller set. That's if you swallow the hype that breast-feeding "protects" babies in the battle of the bulge.

True, studies have found lower rates of obesity among children who were breast-fed. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin plugged the reduced obesity risk in her Call to Action enlisting the public's help in getting more babies on the boob. Michelle Obama has also pushed the breast in her campaign against childhood obesity.

No doubt, too many kids are chubby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates obesity has tripled over the last 30 years with over 33 percent of children overweight or at risk of being overweight. A study out last month classified 32 percent of 9-month-olds obese or at risk.

Yes, there's a problem all right, but more breast milk is not the answer.

However well-intentioned the claims about breast-feeding, the actual evidence remains ... slim.

Typically studies ask a question or two about breast-feeding, sometimes decades afterwards, then look at a mix of weight, body mass, and fat from infancy through early childhood to adolescence or young adulthood. Sometimes results show a benefit for breast-feeding, sometimes not. The lower obesity risk tends to be small and often limited to groups like preschoolers or non-Hispanic white kids.

White kids. Those skinny white girls? Gotta be the breast milk.

You can see how it gets hard to argue a physiological or biological explanation for benefits that accrue to only one privileged ethnic group. Nor is it plausible that only breast-fed white babies learn how to accurately assess their hunger cues thereby preventing a lifetime of overeating.

So breast-feeding benefits have nothing to do with breast milk and everything to do with parents, namely the differences between mothers who breast-feed and those who don't. The former tend to have more education, higher incomes and let's be honest, gym memberships and pantries full of whole grains.

Ah, food. The missing ingredient.

Researchers who study obesity and breast-feeding have no idea what kids eat in a normal day, let alone week or decade. Almost none bothered asking about food, unless it's infant oatmeal, like the recent study showing the introduction of cereal before 4 months raises the obesity risk only for formula-fed babies. It's as if humans miraculously stop eating after infancy. Sure, it's hard to accurately measure. People are notoriously bad at estimating their food intake and even if they weren't, who's going to admit a serious relationship with McDonald's?

Still, it's ridiculous to make causal conclusions about what babies eat now and what they will weigh years later without seriously considering their childhood diets.

Somehow none of this has stopped the media, the pediatric community or public health officials from touting breast-feeding as essentially a diet aid. It's only a matter of time before it becomes a full-blown adult weight-loss system. Remember, you read it here first:

The Breast Milk Diet

Week One: Consume only human breast milk*
Week Two: Add oatmeal.
Week Three: Collapse into fetal position.

For best results, drink from a straw or, better yet, a nipple.

*Although the FDA doesn't yet regulate Donor Human Milk it strongly cautions against drinking any "acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet."

Cheers. Drink responsibly.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.