In studying the association between infant feeding and fatness during early childhood, researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Cincinnati Children's Hospital were the first to use a technique called dual-energy X-ray absorpiometry (DXA) to measure adiposity, or body fatness. Previous studies have used body mass index (BMI), which is the conventional method of determining fatness based on measuring height and weight.
"DXA measures the amount of fat tissue more directly than BMI," says Hillary Burdette, M.D., nutrition specialist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and lead investigator of the study, which appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This distinction is important, say the researchers, because adiposity, rather than weight, is thought to account for obesity-related illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea, among others. "With the rising prevalence of childhood obesity, interest has increased in determining whether breastfeeding or the delayed introduction of complementary foods - or both - can reduce the risk of later obesity. We found no such effect," says Dr. Burdette.
Dr. Burdette emphasized, however, that the team's findings in no way diminish the importance of breastfeeding for multiple benefits to mothers and children, including protection from infection and establishing a bond between mother and infant. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed until at least four months of age.