This image was used in conjunction with this story, about how Kaiser Permanente (an American health system which prides itself on being Baby Friendly) is now promoting breastfeeding as a means to fight obesity.
For our first game, I’ll give you two guesses as to where I am heading with this one.
The article states that “The breastfeeding-obesity link is now recognized by key government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).” True dat, as they say. The LINK between reduced chance of obesity and breastfeeding is certainly recognized by the CDC and AAP (although last I checked, the AAP was not a “government agency”, but rather an independent association of pediatric physicians). But, um, a link is not a cause or cure. It’s a link.
…Breastfeeding is associated with a reduced odds of pediatric overweight; it also appears to have an inverse dose-response association with overweight (longer duration, less chance of overweight). While more research is needed, exclusive breastfeeding appears to have a stronger effect than combined breast and formula feeding, and the inverse association between breastfeeding and overweight appears to remain with increasing age of the child. The three meta-analyses reported in these review articles suggest a 15% to 30% reduction in odds of overweight from breastfeeding.
If you read the entire report, you’ll see that several of the studies in question reported a reduced risk of obesity with breastfeeding initiation – meaning that if women just breastfed in the hospital, there was less of a chance that the child would be overweight. And all studies were observational in nature, as the report authors go on to explain:
There are several possible explanations for why breastfeeding appears to reduce the risk for overweight, but conclusive evidence is not yet available. The studies presented in this brief are limited in that they are based on observational studies and cannot demonstrate causality. One possible explanation for why the literature indicates that breastfeeding reduces the risk of overweight is that the findings are not true but instead are the result of confounding. It may be that mothers who breastfeed choose a healthier lifestyle, including a healthy diet and adequate physical activity for themselves and their children. This healthier lifestyle could result in a spurious relationship between breastfeeding and reduced risk of overweight. The results of Arenz et al. and Owen et al.,however, suggest a true relationship between breastfeeding and reduced risk of overweight, because after adjusting for potential confounding variables, significant inverse associations remained. For example, Arenz et al.reported a significant adjusted OR of 0.78 (95% CI: 0.71, 0.85) among nine studies that adjusted for at least three of the following confounding or interacting factors: birth weight, parental overweight, parental smoking, dietary factors, physical activity, and socioeconomic status/parental education. Similarly, when Owen et al.30 conducted a subanalysis of six studies that controlled for possible lifestyle confounders, the significant inverse association between breastfeeding and pediatric overweight remained, but it was smaller than in the unadjusted analysis. While randomized clinical trials are required to adequately test this relationship, it is unethical to randomize infants to a group with no breastfeeding because of breastfeeding’s known health benefits…
Fair enough. But then the paper launches into a slew of hypotheses about why breastfeeding confers a protective effect against obesity (none of them proven, or even studied, in some cases) and continues with a lengthy discussion about how to improve breastfeeding rates. So what can we gather from this paper?
Hardly evidence-based proof that we should be promoting breastfeeding as a means of reducing obesity, and yet, here we are again, beating the same dead horse. Somebody should probably call PETA.