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Low Birth Weight, Lack of Breast-Feeding Tied to Inflammation Risk in Adulthood

THURSDAY, April 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Years later, people who were underweight at birth, and those who were breast-fed only a short time or not at all, could be at increased risk for chronic inflammation and related health problems, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined health data from 10,500 American adults and found that those with low birth weight and those who had little or no breast-feeding had higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is associated with health risks such as diabetes and heart attack, the study authors noted.

The study did not find a cause-and-effect relationship, however.

The researchers explained that it can be difficult to determine how birth weight and breast-feeding affect long-term health because these problems are more common among children whose parents have lower levels of education and income. This means it's unclear if other factors play a role.

But this study included a large number of siblings and the researchers found that even within the same family, birth weight and breast-feeding influenced the risk of inflammation in adulthood.

The findings will be published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"There were good reasons to hypothesize that breast-feeding was important to influencing levels of inflammation in adulthood," study author Thomas McDade, a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Fellow in the child and brain development program at Northwestern University, said in an institute news release.

"[Breast-feeding] promotes development of the immune system. Children who are breast-fed get fewer infectious diseases and are less likely to become overweight," he noted.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about breast-feeding.

SOURCE: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, news release, April 14, 2014

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