Associations of breastfeeding with bulimic behaviors and eating disorders among adolescents

Authors

  • Sharon Iron-Segev ScD,

    1. Department of Society Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. The Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, Israel
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  • Karen E. Peterson ScD,

    1. Human Nutrition Program, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan
    2. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Matthew W. Gillman MD, SM,

    1. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Obesity Prevention Program, Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Corrine M. Williams ScD,

    1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky
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  • S. Bryn Austin ScD,

    1. Department of Society Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Alison E. Field ScD

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    3. Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    • Correspondence to: Alison E. Field, ScD, Boston Children's Hospital, Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, 300 Longwood Ave (AU-506), Boston, MA 02115. E-mail: alison.field@childrens.harvard.edu

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ABSTRACT

Purpose

To use the lifecourse framework to examine the association between duration of breastfeeding and risk of developing bulimic behaviors or a diagnosed eating disorder.

Method

Questionnaires were sent every 12–24 months between 1996 and 2005 to 6,436 females and 5,756 males in the Growing Up Today Study, who were 9–14 years at baseline. Duration of breastfeeding was reported by the participants' mothers in 1997. We used generalized estimating equations to estimate the association of breastfeeding with purging, binge eating, engaging in bulimic behaviors, and having a diagnosed eating disorder.

Results

Compared to girls who were breastfed for more than 9 months, those who were breastfed for less than 4 months did not have a significantly different prevalence of purging, binge eating, bulimic behaviors, and self-reported history of diagnosed eating disorders. Adjusting for gestational age/birthweight, age, age at menarche, maternal history of an eating disorder, and maternal body mass index, short duration of breastfeeding was not associated with any outcome among the girls [adjusted odds ratios (AOR) ranged from 0.8 to 1.1]. Among the boys, the results showed no significant associations between duration of breastfeeding and purging, binge eating, and self-reported history of diagnosed eating disorder. However, there was a suggestion that boys who had been breastfed for less than 4 months were at a higher risk of engaging in bulimic behaviors [AOR: 1.5, 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.0–2.3].

Discussion

No association was found between duration of breastfeeding and risk of developing bulimic behaviors or a diagnosed eating disorder among girls or boys with the one exception of longer duration of breastfeeding associated with fewer bulimic behaviors in boys. Although there are many benefits to breastfeeding, our data suggest that breastfeeding does not offer any protection against binge eating or purging, nor does it present harmful effects. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2013; 46:834–840)

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