- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Black mothers are 21 percent less likely to breast-feed their babies than white mothers, and they do it for shorter periods of time, putting black infants at increased risk for infections and other medical problems, said a report published by the CDC.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of data from the 2004 National Immunization Survey (NIS) found that about half of non-Hispanic black children have been breast-fed. That proportion compared with nearly 72 percent of non-Hispanic white children.

The analysis also showed that although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding for at least the first year of a child’s life, only 43 percent of non-Hispanic black children who had been breast-fed continued breast-feeding at 6 months. That compared with 54 percent of non-Hispanic white children who ever were breast-fed.

The report is called “Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in Breastfeeding — United States 2004” and is available in the March 31 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Federal researchers said the overall deficiency in breast-feeding of black infants makes them more prone to respiratory and ear infections, as well as diarrhea and obesity. Investigators explained that “breast-feeding duration is inversely associated” with a child’s chances of becoming overweight.

It is thought that infants who nurse tend to be in better health than those who drink formula because the maternal antibodies in a breast-feeding baby’s intestine deactivate swallowed bacteria and viruses. Also, a baby’s formula in nonindustrialized nations may not be refrigerated and may be made with contaminated water.

“The findings demonstrate that race is associated with breast-feeding status independent of socioeconomic and other demographic factors, but also that socioeconomic and other factors are associated with breast-feeding independent of race,” the authors said.

“Within each income group, the proportion of black children who were ever breast-fed was 10 to 17 percentage points lower than that of white children; within each race, the proportion of children ever breast-fed was 23 to 26 percentage points higher among those in the highest income group compared with the lowest,” the report said.

Although the findings are troubling, the authors said, “progress has been made in recent decades to increase breast-feeding initiation and decrease breast-feeding disparities between blacks and whites and between economic strata.”

They compared breast-feeding information obtained from the 2004 immunization survey of children ages 19 months to 35 months with data from an earlier survey of children born between 1982 and 1993.

Researchers said breast-feeding initiation rates among white children climbed from 60.3 percent to 71.5 percent between the two surveys. They nearly doubled among black children during the same period, from 25.5 percent to 50.1 percent.

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