Breastfeeding Boosts Child’s School Performance
By Steven Reinberg
WEDNESDAY, June 17 (HealthDay News) — Children who were breastfed do better in high school and are more likely to go to college than their bottle-fed siblings, researchers report.
While the health benefits of breastfeeding to both infants and mothers is well known, this study suggests the practice may have educational benefits as well. This is the first study using data on siblings to examine the effect of breastfeeding on high school completion and college attendance, the researchers noted.
“We compare sibling pairs — one of whom was breastfed and one of whom was not, or siblings who were breastfed for different durations — and find consistent evidence that breastfed children have higher high school grade point averages and a higher probability of attending college,” said study co-author Joseph Sabia, an assistant professor of public policy at American University in Washington, D.C.
Since their sample contained a variety of adolescents, the researchers ruled out factors such as socioeconomic status in the connection between breastfeeding and educational achievement, Sabia said.
The report is published in the June 11 issue of the Journal of Human Capital.
For the report, Sabia and his colleague Daniel Rees, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They looked at the breastfeeding histories of 126 siblings from 59 families; high school graduation and college attendance data was obtained for 191 siblings from 90 families.
“If you’re breastfed, your high school GPA goes up substantially, and the likelihood that you go on to college goes up,” Rees said.
For every month you are breastfed, your high school GPA goes up about 1% and your probability of going to college goes up about 2%, Rees added.
“We found that more than one-half of the estimated effect of being breastfed on high school grades can be linked to improvements in cognitive ability and health,” Sabia said. “Thus, we conclude that improvements in cognitive ability and adolescent health may be important pathways through which breastfeeding affects long-term academic achievement,” he said.
About one-fifth of the increased likelihood of going to college appears to be due to breastfeeding, Rees added.
“This is another benefit of breastfeeding,” Rees said. “We know that breastfeeding leads to better health, higher IQ, but the next step is what are the implications, and this is an important implication,” he said.
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said this study may not prove a connection between school performance and breastfeeding, but it could be another reason to breastfeed your baby.
“An array of health benefits is convincingly associated with breastfeeding, including a reduced risk of both infections and obesity in the breastfed child,” Katz said. “Less certain, but long suggested, is enhanced cognitive development in breastfed children as well.”
It could be that factors that determine whether or not a baby is breastfed are an important piece of the puzzle, Katz noted. “Why a baby is fed one way or another may matter as much as which way a baby is fed,” he said. “A study of association such as this cannot fully resolve that issue.”
SOURCES: Joseph Sabia, Ph.D., assistant professor, public policy, American University, Washington, D.C.; Daniel Rees, Ph.D., professor, economics, University of Colorado Denver; David L. Katz, M.D., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; June 11, 2009, Journal of Human Capital
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