Breastfeeding link to chronic illness
GENERATIONS of Australians are at increased risk of chronic illness because they were weaned off breastfeeding too early, new research reveals.Australian National University scientists set out to assess the risk of chronic illness when infants are prematurely weaned off breast milk.
They found that one in 10 people are in danger of major diseases later in life because they were not breast-fed for a minimum six months.
Breastfeeding has been proven to reduce the long-term risk of chronic disease.
But during the 1960s and '70s, 90 per cent of people now aged between 35 and 45 were weaned off breast milk before they were six months old.
They found that, even now, very few Australian babies are breastfed to six months.
Lead researcher Dr Julie Smith said: "Depending on how we measure exposures for different types of chronic disease, more than one in ten Australians will face heightened risk in later life because they were not breastfed, many from disadvantaged families.
"From what we know about the effects of premature weaning ... a significant proportion of the current burden of chronic disease might have been avoided."
This was because "inappropriate and unsupportive" health policies, as well as public attitudes, had undermined breastfeeding in postwar decades, Dr Smith said.
The research, published in the international journal Public Health Nutrition, suggests more should be done to promote breastfeeding past the age of six months to combat the risk of chronic disease in the future.
"Many public health measures to prevent chronic disease are ineffective or expensive to sustain. But being breastfed for a time in infancy reduces the long-term risk of chronic disease," Dr Smith said.
"Few other one-off preventative health interventions shows consistent, long-term effects in reducing chronic disease."