Objective. To examine whether increasing duration of breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of overweight in a low-income population of 4-year-olds in the United States.
Methods. Visit data were linked to determine prospectively the duration of breastfeeding (up to 2 years of age) and weight status at 4 years of age. Overweight among 4-year-old children was defined as a body mass index (BMI)-for-age at or above the 95th percentile based on the 2000 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts. Logistic regression was performed, controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, and birth weight. In a subset of states, links to maternal pregnancy records also permitted regression analysis controlling for mother’s age, education, prepregnancy BMI, weight gain during pregnancy, and postpartum smoking. Data from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which extracts breastfeeding, height, and weight data from child visits to public health programs, were analyzed. In 7 states, data were linked to Pregnancy Nutrition Surveillance System data. A total of 177 304 children up to 60 months of age were included in our final pediatric-only analysis, and 12 587 were included in the pregnancy-pediatric linked analysis.
Results. The duration of breastfeeding showed a dose-response, protective relationship with the risk of overweight only among non-Hispanic whites; no significant association was found among non-Hispanic blacks or Hispanics. Among non-Hispanic whites, the adjusted odds ratio of overweight by breastfeeding for 6 to 12 months versus never breastfeeding was 0.70 (95% confidence interval: 0.50–0.99) and for >12 months versus never was 0.49 (95% confidence interval: 0.25–0.95). Breastfeeding for any duration was also protective against underweight (BMI-for-age below the 5th percentile).
Conclusion. Prolonged breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of overweight among non-Hispanic white children. Breastfeeding longer than 6 months provides health benefits to children well beyond the period of breastfeeding.