Children who were never or infrequently breastfed have 25 percent increased risk of developing childhood obesity, according to a study by WHO European Region.
Consequences of obesity in young children became more prevalent in the recent years. The European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow, United Kingdom said the region's approach to tackling these issues has been slow and inconsistent.
Nation Of Obese Children
Roughly 400,000 out of 13.7 million young children between ages 6 and 9 in 21 European countries suffer from severe obesity, according to the WHO study. Severely obese children have worse health conditions compared to those who are overweight.
Severe obesity is associated with long-term cardiovascular, metabolic, and other negative health outcomes. It also has an adverse impact on education, health care, economy, and social services.
"The longer a child is breastfed, the greater their protection from obesity. This knowledge can strengthen our efforts in preventing obesity," said Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through Life-course, WHO/Europe.
Despite health benefits shown in a number of studies and policy initiatives, breastfeeding practices remains below the recommended level.
Not A Popular Practice
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life. After which, nutritional complementary foods in addition to breastfeeding should be given up to 2 years of age and beyond.
More than 77 percent of infants in the participating EU countries were breastfed. In Ireland, 46 percent of children were never breastfed, 38 percent in France, and 35 percent in Malta.
Four out of 12 countries had a prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding for more than six months, which includes Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The report cited reasons such as inefficient breastfeeding policies, lack of preparation among health care providers, popularity of breast milk substitutes, and lack of legislative support for maternity protection.
The WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative collected data from more than half a million children in the region for the last decade to estimate the prevalence and monitor changes in childhood obesity.