Everything You Know Is Still Wrong, Part 3

Breastfeeding

Okay, we have learned that exercise may or may not affect obesity. When a child’s tonsils are surgically removed it may or may not increase the likelihood of obesity. School and community programs designed to alleviate obesity may or may not backfire. There is some evidence that such interventions can cause harm as well as good, and it’s a particularly discouraging notion, because so many people have devoted so much energy to the creation and funding of better facilities and programs.

Journalist Sharon Kirkey writes:

School-based obesity-prevention programs that push ‘healthy eating’ are triggering disordered eating in some children, creating sudden neuroses around food in children who never before worried about their weight, Canadian researchers report.

The researchers describe the cases of four children referred to hospital-based eating disorders programs after being exposed to ‘healthy eating curricula.’ […] In one case, a 14-year-old boy who was normal weight lost 11.5 kilograms over seven months after he began severely restricting food, cutting out ‘bad foods and junk foods’ and limiting his intake of cheese, milk and meat in response to a ‘healthy living’ program at his school.

Eleven-and-a-half kilograms is about 25 pounds, and for a child starting out at normal weight such a loss is extreme and disturbing. As a result of this and similar cases, major Canadian hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa joined forces to investigate the effectiveness of school programs, and their possible “inadvertent harmful effects on children’s mental health.” One problem is, the goal of maintaining a perfect weight can play into the belief held by some children they must succeed at everything, at any cost. Apparently, for a small minority of kids, the consequences can be unfortunate.

Maybe the answer is as simple as removing anti-obesity intervention programs from schools, while ensuring that children have access to help from other sources. Some educators also point out that talking to kids about what they should eat might not be very effective, because the parents do the shopping. But there is a possible counterargument to that objection. Since kids are so successful at talking their parents into buying junk food, mightn’t they be able to exert the same amount of influence in the other direction?

School programs affect a lot of children, but another issue affects an even greater number, and it’s a major one. Studies of breastfeeding have reported conclusions that probably bring crushing disappointment to many experts.

For CBS News, Michelle Castillo reported on a study originating in the United Kingdom at the University of Bristol, but whose subjects were mother-infant pairs in Belarus. In 1996 and ’97, around 17,000 mothers and children were enrolled. Some of the mothers were simply observed as they followed whatever baby-feeding method they were inclined to use, and some were encouraged to adhere to World Health Organization/UNICEF breastfeeding guidelines. Between 2008 and 2010, researchers were able to check back on more than 80% of the children, whose median age was by then 11.5 years.

The result? Castillo writes:

There were no statistically significant differences in weight between kids in the group whose mothers were encouraged to breast-feed and the group that’s mothers were allowed to choose. About 15 percent of kids were overweight in both groups, and 5 percent were obese.

The study’s lead author, professor of clinical epidemiology Dr. Richard Martin, concluded:

There’s a lot of other evidence out there to continue to support breast-feeding, but in terms of breast-feeding reducing obesity, it’s unlikely to be effective.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fight against childhood obesity may claim unintended victims,” Ottawa Citizen, 04/01/13
Source: “Breast-feeding may not stave off childhood obesity like previously thought,” CBS News, 03/13/13
Image by Pusteblumenland (Maja).

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