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Breastfeeding protects infants from developing chronic diseases

Pearl Toh
07 Jun 2016

Infants who were breastfed had a lower risk of developing non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity later in life, according to a study presented at the recent European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) annual meeting held in Athens, Greece.

“Understanding the associated neonatal risk factors for NCDs is a prerequisite to develop early life interventions to arrest the increasing epidemic burden of these chronic diseases,” said the researchers.

The researchers surveyed 6,379 individuals (mean age 25.6 years) on the effects of breastfeeding, caesarean section, and preterm birth on NCD development including asthma, allergy, type I and II diabetes, coeliac disease, overweight and obesity. [ESPGHAN 2016, abstract G-P-126]

Thirty-two percent of the participants reported having asthma or allergy, 20.7 percent had a body mass index [BMI]of >25 (out of which 5.5 percent were obese), 3.7 percent complained of coeliac disease, 1.6 percent presented with type II diabetes, and 0.8 percent presented with type I diabetes.

Participant who had been breastfed were less likely to develop asthma or allergy later in life (odds ratio [OR], 0.49; p=0.002). Also, breastfed individuals had a lower risk of developing type II diabetes (OR, 0.63; p=0.023), obesity (OR, 0.60; p<0.0001), and being overweight (OR, 0.74; p=0.014).

Preterm birth was associated with a lower risk of being overweight (OR, 0.69; p=0.015) and obese (OR, 0.65; p=0.012), but this was not true for asthma or allergy, coeliac disease, or type I and II diabetes. 

Contrary to prior beliefs, birth by caesarean section was not associated with an increased risk of developing these NCDs.

“Caesarean per se is not a risk factor for NCD development via the gut microbiota hypothesis,” said the researchers, noting the conflicting conclusions from previous studies. 

They also said further longitudinal studies were necessary to confirm their findings in the future.

“These [neonatal] characteristics could have a direct or indirect influence on neonatal gut establishment with subsequent health implications later in life,” the researchers said. 

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