Australia’s Disease Burden Traced To Low Rates Of Breastfeeding
by Gopalan T on 18 August 2010
Australia’s chronic disease burden has been traced to historical barriers to breastfeeding.
The research, by Dr Julie Smith and Dr Peta Harvey of the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health at Australian National University (ANU), looked at the public health impact of infants being prematurely weaned during the past five decades in Australia. Using evidence that breastfeeding reduces the risk of chronic disease later in life, and that 90 per cent of current 35-45 year olds were weaned off breastfeeding before six months of age during the 1960s, the researchers measured the legacy for our chronic disease burden.
Dr Smith said that inappropriate and unsupportive health policies, practices and attitudes had undermined breastfeeding in the postwar decades, and led to an unnecessary and avoidable public health burden from chronic disease.
“Many Australians have higher chronic disease risk because they missed out on breastfeeding when they were babies. From what we now know about the effects of premature weaning on chronic disease risk, a significant proportion of the current burden of chronic disease might have been avoided,” she said.
“We still don’t fully understand the long term implications of breastfeeding in infancy. But 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.
“Not being breastfed has modest effects on increasing later chronic disease risk, but the importance for public health lies in the fact that so few Australian babies are breastfed to six months.”