Breast Is Best … for Social Mobility

PARIS ~ Infants who are breast-fed are likelier to move up the social classes in adult life compared with counterparts who are bottle-fed, according to a long-term British study published this week.

Researchers interviewed men and women who had taken part in a study into diet and health in pre-World War II Britain.

Nearly 5,000 children aged 24 days to 19.6 years were enrolled in the 1937-39 study, of whom 1,414, now in middle age or their 70s, responded to the follow-up investigation.

Those who had been breast-fed were 41 percent likelier to move up a social class, as determined by employment, compared to bottle-fed counterparts.

The paper, written by a a University of Bristol team, notes that previous research has linked breastfeeding with gains in height, a stronger immune system, higher IQ and lower risk of psychiatric disorders compared with bottle-feeding.

If so, they theorize, the benefits of breastfeeding could translate into long-term effects in social mobility.

The authors say breastfeeding in the 1930s was not associated with class, whereas in Britain today, it is strongly associated with the middle class.

They caution, though, that the data do not give a conclusive picture.

In pre-war Britain, breastfeeding, or the duration of breastfeeding, among women varied strongly according to region and occupation.

The paper appears in Archives of Disease in Childhood, published by the British Medical Association.

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