The Linkage of Childhood Breastfeeding to Reduced Incidence of Obesity Among US Youths

Posted: 28 Jun 2007

Date Written: June 15, 2007


Medical practice literature has linked childhood breastfeeding to wide ranging health benefits in youths and adults. Breastfed infants later in life have significantly better immune response functions, are less likely to contract Cohn's disease, suffer less allergic reactions, are less likely to develop diabetes, are happier, less hyperactive, and are less likely to be obese in adulthood. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, optimal breastfeeding of children confers health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychologic, social, economic, and environmental benefits. Jones et al, in a landmark paper (Lancet, 2003) estimated that over 1.3 million of the world's children under age 5 die daily from causes that could have been prevented by optimal breastfeeding and that for each child that die for lack of breastfeeding hundreds are at risk for contracting diseases that are preventable through breastfeeding. One study (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine) using British data concluded that infants fed exclusively on mothers' milk the first 3 to 5 years of life has a 35 percent reduction in obesity at age 5 to 6 years, Breastfeeding in the US increased in the 1970s, fell in the 1980s and rose in the 1990s. The incidence of childhood obesity in the US is rising fast and has significant implications for adulthood obesity, premature mortality and morbidity and related health care costs that run into billions of dollars annually. Currently, 65 to 70 percent of the US adults are overweight or obese and the rise in childhood obesity is projected to worsen future obesity prevalence in the US.

The goal of this paper is to use US data (50 states and the District of Columbia) on the duration of infant breastfeeding (in-hospital and 6 months after birth) as an independent variable in a model of youth obesity, from 1955 - 2002. State level data on breastfeeding trends, from 1955 through 2002, are obtained from Ross Products Division of Abbot Laboratory, which conducts nationally representative survey of new mothers and how they fed their infants. The annual "Ross Mothers Survey" contains additional information on mother's race, age, education, work status (full-time, part-time, not employed), whether WIC or non-WIC assistance recipient, as well as how mothers fed their infants (mother's milk, baby formula) in-hospital and after six months. During 2001, 70.1 percent of new mothers breastfed their children post-delivery in hospitals, but only 33 percent were still breastfeeding at six months. The Ross survey data are linked to data on prevalence of youth obesity.

Controlling for other factors, fixed effects models were estimated separately for WIC and non-WIC breastfed infants. Preliminary results show that naturally breastfed children are highly unlikely to be obese, and that the children of WIC program recipients benefit less. The economic value of savings from breastfeeding, broadly measured in diseases prevented and improved quality of life, would tend to support the need to promote optimal breastfeeding after hospital discharge.

Keywords: Infant breastfeeding, childhood obesity, WIC and non-WIC Program mothers

JEL Classification: I1

Suggested Citation

Okunade, Adeyinka Kevin and Okunade, Albert A., The Linkage of Childhood Breastfeeding to Reduced Incidence of Obesity Among US Youths (June 15, 2007). iHEA 2007 6th World Congress: Explorations in Health Economics Paper, Available at SSRN:

Adeyinka Kevin Okunade

Indiana University Bloomington ( email )

Dept of Biology
100 South Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Albert A. Okunade (Contact Author)

University of Memphis ( email )

Memphis, TN 38152
Memphis, TN usa 38152-3370
United States

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