Breast-feeding seen as key in fight against childhood obesity

    More than 20 percent of kids aged 2 to 5 are already overweight or obese, according to the Institute of Medicine. The group has issued new recommendations for reversing that trend. Topping the list in the nutrition section: breast-feeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life.

    The Institute had previously recommended exclusive breast-feeding for the first four to six months, said Diane Spatz, professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Spatz said the bump to a full six-month recommendation is important in the fight against early childhood obesity.

    The makeup of breast milk changes to meet the nutritional needs of a growing baby, she said, and it is easier for infants to say “when” with breast milk than with formula.

    “You have two ounces or four ounces in the bottle and the person who’s feeding the baby wants to make sure the baby finishes the whole bottle,” Spatz said. “You can’t do that with breast-feeding because the baby’s going to tell you when he’s done breast-feeding.”

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 10 percent of 6-month-olds in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are exclusively breast-fed, compared with a national average of 13 percent.

    “We have been a formula-feeding culture for a very long time in the United States, so we are asking not just hospitals to change but communities to change and think differently about breastfeeding,” said Trish MacEnroe, executive director of Baby-Friendly USA, a company that encourages hospitals to facilitate breastfeeding among new mothers.

    The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin this year issued a call to action to support breastfeeding, and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign also focuses on increasing the practice.

    Spatz said this heightened awareness is a step forward, but it will take time and resources, not just written goals, to make a difference.

    The Institute of Medicine recommendations call for all workplaces to provide lactation stations. It has asked hospitals to stop handing out samples of formula to new mothers, and reduce advertising for breast-milk substitutes.

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