The Burning of Amalrician Heretics

Heresy: Breastfeeding Doesn’t Prevent Childhood Obesity?

A review of breastfeeding’s effect on childhood obesity rates caused a bit of a stir this week because its authors uttered a heresy:

The concept of promotion of breastfeeding as a front-line strategy for the primordial prevention of obesity is not supported by the literature.

This conclusion is not news to anyone who has been carefully following the evidence on this question. There’s no doubt that breastfeeding is the best choice for feeding infants. But rigorous systematic reviews of evidence for the effect of breastfeeding on obesity, such as the one by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013, have found the evidence for a benefit is not clear. Breastfeeding of sufficient duration “may provide some protection against overweight or obesity, but residual confounding cannot be ruled out.” In other words, the association between more breastfeeding and less obesity might be explained by the link of breastfeeding to higher income and education, along with related factors. And in any event, the benefit for preventing obesity is relatively small.

Perhaps people were misled by organizations like the American Public Health Association, Let’s Move!, and CDC saying that breastfeeding is a key strategy for reversing childhood obesity trends.

Stretching the truth is a risky strategy. People don’t like being manipulated or told what to do, especially on very personal issues. Emily Kaye Lazzaro captured the feeling well in a recent Washington Post column, saying, “If you’re not my baby, I don’t want to hear your opinions on breastfeeding.”

Click here to read the analysis in Current Obesity Reports and here to read the WHO’s systematic review. Click here to read Lazzaro’s column in the Washington Post.

The Burning of Amalrician Heretics, Illustration from the illuminated manuscript Grandes Chroniques de France by Jean Fouquet / Wikimedia

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