Can breastfeeding prevent asthma, celiac disease, and obesity?

July 17, 2007

Universal breastfeeding could prevent thousands of cases of asthma, celiac disease, and obesity in children, according to the results of a UK study published in the June issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Universal breastfeeding could prevent thousands of cases of asthma, celiac disease, and obesity in children, according to the results of a UK study published in the June issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Anthony K. Akobeng, MD, of Booth Hall Children's Hospital in Manchester, UK, and colleagues analyzed data on 596,122 infants born in England and Wales in 2002. They used a new statistical method, the population impact number of eliminating a risk factor over a time period (PIN-ER-t), to estimate the number of cases of each disorder that could be prevented by eliminating "no breastfeeding" as a risk factor.

Over 7 to 9 years, the researchers found that eliminating this risk factor could have prevented 33,100 cases of asthma, 2,655 cases of celiac disease, and 13,639 cases of obesity.

"The results of this study show that the impact of low rates of breastfeeding on the UK population with regard to these chronic disorders is significant. Increasing the prevalence of breastfeeding could help reduce the incidence of these disorders," the authors conclude. "The use of PIN-ER-t allows the population burden of low breastfeeding rates to be quantified and communicated in a way that will make it easier for both the general public and decision makers to understand."

Akobeng AK, Heller RF. Assessing the population impact of low rates of breast feeding on asthma, coeliac disease and obesity: the use of a new statistical method. Arch Dis Child. 2007;92:483-485.