Our friend, Alessandro Iellamo, of WHO Regional Office in Manila, Philippines, shared with us a recently published study by WHO entitled, "Evidence on the long-term effects of breastfeeding."
The report looked at studies on the long-term effects of breastfeeding from MEDLINE and Scientific Citation Index databases, to assess if breastfeeding had long-term effects on a person's blood pressure, diabetes and related indicators, serum cholesterol, overweight and obesity, and intellectual performance.
The study concluded that:
The available evidence suggests that breastfeeding may have long-term benefits. Subjects who were breastfed experienced lower mean blood pressure and total cholesterol, as well as higher performance on intelligence tests. Furthermore, the prevalence of overweight/obesity and type-2 diabetes was lower among breastfed subjects. All effects were statistically significant, but for some outcomes their magnitude was relatively modest.
More specifically, the studies reviewed showed the following effects:
- on blood pressure: Among studies that controlled for socioeconomic and demographic variables, systolic blood pressure was lower among breastfed subjects by 0.69-1.7, and diastolic blood pressure was lower by 0.10-1.12.
- on serum cholesterol: Breastfed subjects had lower mean total cholesterol in adulthood, by 0.06 - 0.30 mmol/L. For children and adolescents, the association was not statistically significant.
- on overweight and obesity: Breastfed individuals were 72-84% less likely to be overweight and/or obese.
- on type-2 diabetes: Breastfed subjects were 45-89% less likely to present type-2 diabetes
- on intelligence and schooling: Intelligence scores of breastfed subjects were 2.97-6.92 points higher
The study also compared the magnitude of the effects of breastfeeding with the effects of other public health interventions:
For blood pressure, the effect of breastfeeding was smaller than those derived from other public health interventions targeted at adults, such as dietary advice, physical activity, salt restriction, and multiple risk factor interventions. On the other hand, for total cholesterol among adutls, the magnitude of the breastfeeding effect was similar to that of dietary advice in adulthood. Similarly, for the prevention of type-2 diabetes, the magnitude was similar to that of diet and physical activity. Concerning obesity, whereas Summerbell et al (184) reported that combined dietary education and physical activity interventions were not effective in reducing childhood obesity and overweight, we noticed that breastfeeding was associated with a 22% reduction in the prevalence of overweight/obesity.
The study can be downloaded at: