Breast-feeding is good for moms and babies, but new research shows that it may not be the cure for childhood obesity that researchers previously thought it was.

Previous research suggested that breast-feeding may help to curb childhood obesity. But researchers now think that other factors might have actually been at work there. For instance, it's possible that mothers who choose to breast-feed might also be more likely to feed their babies healthy foods later in life. But that doesn't mean that breast-feeding led to improvements in childhood obesity rates.

For the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers studied 17,000 mothers and their babies in Belarus. All of the mothers in the study breast-fed their babies, at least initially. So the study was able to compare infants that were breast-fed for various time periods, rather than comparing babies that were breast-fed with those who were not.

The research team, led by Richard Martin, from the University of Bristol in the Unisted Kingdom, found that toddlers who were breast-fed as babies had fewer stomach infections and eczema and better thinking and memory skills than the kids who were not. But when comparing body fat, researchers tracked the children up through age 11 and found no differences related to breast-feeding. Between 14 and 16 percent of all the kids in the study were overweight and about 5 percent were obese and this was unaffected by whether or not the kids were breast-fed or even how long they were breast-fed. 

"It's just a reality check that in itself, promoting breast-feeding, while a good thing and will have other health benefits, is unlikely to have any effects on stemming the obesity epidemic," said Martin.

There are still lots of great reasons to breast-feed your baby — but promoting it as a strategy to fight childhood obesity may not be effective. 

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