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Fixin' Healthcare

Monday, January 16, 2006

Young Women and Babies Are Pure Gold

If the US is to have a major impact upon health status in a short period of time, there must be more emphasis on healthy lifestyle and prevention of disease. If this impact is to be lasting, the emphasis must be placed upon children. All age groups should be included but the greatest potential comes with the young woman before pregnancy and children from birth to five years of age.

A recent study from Ohio State University published in the December 5, 2005 Journal of Pediatrics shows that a child is more likely to be overweight at a very early age if the mother was overweight or obese within one to two months before she became pregnant. Also, a child is at greater risk of becoming overweight if born to a black or Hispanic mother, or to a mother who smoked during her pregnancy. As much as five percent fewer children who were breast-fed were overweight, compared to bottle-fed babies.

The World Health Organization recommends that mothers feed their babies exclusively on breast milk for six months, and continue to offer it alongside other food for at least two years. Whether or not a woman follows these recommendations to their fullest, breast feeding affords a large number of health benefits to babies that extend into later life.

And, the health benefits of breastfeeding include the mother. A research team from Harvard Medical School found that one year of breastfeeding was associated with a 15% decrease in a woman's risk of developing Type-2 diabetes. The protective effect lasted for up to 15 years after a woman's last pregnancy and delivery. The production of milk requires a breastfeeding mother to use an average of 500 calories each day - the equivalent of running four to five miles.

Pat Faulkner in her comments on an earlier post suggested an educational program for pregnant women, and I agree. Such a program should include all women of childbearing age with reinforcement during pregnancy and the first five years of the babies life. Later we will consider the evidence of noncognitive and cognitive benefits from intervention during the first five years of life. A dollar spent here will yield large returns down the line.

Maybe we should let babies vote and cease voter eligibilty after age 65 years. Hmmm, I wonder....


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