Obesity Myth #6: Breast-Feeding is Protective Against Obesity

Having (predictably) annoyed the exercise and fitness community with yesterday’s post on the New England Journal of Medicine article on obesity myths, presumptions and facts, I am preparing myself for more flack with regard to Myth #6, which the authors state as,

“Breast-feeding is protective against obesity.”

In support of the notion that this widely held notion represents a myth, it may be important to recall what exactly the authors of this paper consider a myth:

“…beliefs held true despite substantial evidence refuting them.”

On that note, the authors note that a recent WHO report that suggests a positive impact of breast-feeding on obesity rates may have significant publication bias in the papers it analysed for this report.

They also state that,

“…studies with better control for confounding (e.g., studies including within-family sibling analyses) and a randomized, controlled trial involving more than 13,000 children who were followed for more than 6 years provided no compelling evidence of an effect of breast-feeding on obesity.”

But the authors are quick to point out that,

“Although existing data indicate that breast-feeding does not have important antiobesity effects in children, it has other important potential benefits for the infant and mother and should therefore be encouraged.”

Thus, as is the case with school phys-ed programs, breast-feeding has numerous important benefits for kids irrespective of whether or not it helps address obesity.

(Note that the authors do not address the question of whether or not breast-feeding is protective against obesity in the mothers!).

While I realise that this “myth” will not be welcomed by those who promote breast feeding (including myself), it should not deter us from encouraging breast feeding given its many better-established benefits.

The same, of course applies to yesterday’s “myth” on phys-ed programs. Just because there is little evidence to support their role in reducing obesity rates does not mean that I do not support such programs or consider them important for our kids’ health and well-being (as long as such programs are based on inclusiveness rather than competition-based exclusiveness).

Edmonton, AB