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Preventing Obesity Begins at Birth through Breastfeeding

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - February 11, 2010

Washington, DC—As First Lady Michelle Obama launches her campaign to fight childhood obesity, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) reminds the public, health care professionals, and educators that obesity prevention begins at the earliest moments of life when parents make infant feeding decisions. Breastfeeding has been shown to have an impact on obesity throughout the life span, while also contributing to numerous other positive health outcomes.

USBC supports the "Let's Move" campaign as a vitally important initiative for our Nation's health, and shares the First Lady's commitment to the goal of combining efforts to overcome obesity within a generation. In addition to the important measures outlined to reduce and prevent obesity, USBC calls on the First Lady and policymakers to consider the importance of breastfeeding and recommends that breastfeeding experts be included on the Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

As with breastfeeding, the actions necessary to reduce and prevent childhood obesity require that parents are supported to make healthy choices in all aspects of their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Survey, nearly 75% of new mothers initiate breastfeeding, however, rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six months and continued breastfeeding at 12 months are well below the national Healthy People 2010 goals. Another recent CDC study found that 60% of women do not even meet their own breastfeeding goals. Thus USBC applauds and echoes the "Let's Move" campaign's emphasis on empowering consumers and providing parents with the tools, support and information they need to make healthier choices for their families, beginning with breastfeeding.

According to USBC Chair, Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, IBCLC, "Multiple studies have shown that a history of not breastfeeding increases the risk of being overweight or obese in childhood and adolescence. Adolescent obesity often persists into adult life. Breastfeeding plays an important role in obesity prevention and improving overall health outcomes, and therefore is vitally important to public health."  

Dr. Meek points out that the longer and the more exclusively babies breastfeed, the better their health outcomes. "Both duration and exclusivity should be considered when investigating the relationships between breastfeeding and obesity. The duration of breastfeeding has been shown to be inversely related to overweight--meaning that the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the lower the odds of overweight. And although further research is needed, exclusive breastfeeding appears to have a stronger protective effect than breastfeeding combined with formula feeding."

The evidence for the value of breastfeeding to children's and women's health is scientific, solid, and continually being reaffirmed by new research. Medical experts agree with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for the first year of life and beyond. The comprehensive review and analysis of breastfeeding research released in 2007 by the DHHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality strongly supports the evidence demonstrated in the research:

  • For the child: reduced risk of ear, skin, stomach, and respiratory infections, diarrhea, sudden infant death syndrome, and necrotizing enterocolitis; and in the longer term, reduced risk of obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, asthma, and childhood leukemia.
  • For the mother: reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and postpartum depression.

Obesity has serious implications for the health of Americans, increasing the risk of many diseases and conditions, including: coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, high blood pressure, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and gynecological problems. USBC urges all Americans to support the "Let's Move" campaign and to begin a healthy lifestyle at birth and prevent obesity through optimal breastfeeding of our Nation's children.  

For more information about breastfeeding, visit The National Women's Health Information Center. To locate health care providers and knowledgeable breastfeeding support personnel that can offer assistance and answer questions about breastfeeding, visit the FAQs page on the USBC Web site.

 USBC is an organization of organizations. Opinions expressed by USBC are not necessarily the position of all member organizations and opinions expressed by USBC member organization representatives are not necessarily the position of USBC.