16 May

Breastfeeding and Obesity

Breastfeeding Network CEO Shereen Fisher responds to the recent press coverage on the link between breastfeeding and reduced chances of childhood obesity.

Late April saw a flurry of articles from the Guardian covering breastfeeding. It’s useful to see the media give attention to the subject but especially so when it highlights robust research alongside the very sorry state we are in when it comes to supporting women and families with breastfeeding.

The standout piece for me was the article of April 30th, ‘Breastfeeding reduces child obesity risk by up to 25%’. This article gives new evidence to the very real contribution that breastfeeding makes in reducing child obesity while at the same time supporting a wide range of improved health outcomes for women regardless of their backgrounds.

The data came from nearly 30,000 children monitored as part of the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance initiative (COSI). Launched in 2007, COSI is continuously being updated and now receives data from about 40 countries on children aged six to nine. But rather awkwardly not the UK. With one in five children in the UK already overweight or obese before they start school, the measures offered by the UK at 4 and 11 seem too little – too late.

In a society that struggles to accept breastfeeding as a universal norm, the contribution that independent evidence can make to help shape public opinion is powerful. However, it must be used proactively by Governments to invest in measures to protect breastfeeding and invest in the support services that enable mothers and families to carry out their choices.

We have a problem in the UK in that we fail to support a woman’s intention to breastfeed.

Here’s the story. In the UK most women start to breastfeed, (initiation rates are over 70%). However, many women reduce or stop breastfeeding in the first few days and weeks. The majority of mothers want to carry on. Many mothers say that they stopped because of lack of support – no time or skilled guidance was around to help them learn to do it. For many women who want to breastfeed but struggle to do it through lack of support this becomes a personal failure. The injustice of it is that they are being failed. The rapid drop off rates in breastfeeding represent feelings of crashing disappointment for many women who tell us they carry the pain of their breastfeeding struggles for years. Lack of timely, quality and consistent early days support leaves them ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of coping with a newborn, they then return home to struggle on in communities where breastfeeding culture varies widely and support around them may exist or not, and may not be easy to access.

We agree with Kate Brintworth, head of maternity transformation at the Royal College of Midwives, who said the study reinforced the need to put more resources into supporting women to breastfeed: “We need both more specialist breastfeeding support for women after the birth and more time for midwives to offer the support women are telling us they need. It is important that we respect a woman’s infant feeding choices, and that if a woman chooses not to breastfeed, for whatever reason, she will need to be supported in that choice.”

In the UK, obesity costs are estimated to be at least £27 billion every year and obesity is poised to overtake smoking as a key cause of cancer. It’s critical that national leaders champion for change and for investment in obesity prevention and for support services to start much earlier. However, the UK government does not have a strong track-record in addressing infant feeding as part of the obesity agenda, despite there being a wealth of evidence about the importance of it. In the childhood obesity strategy published in 2016 the top line was introducing the soft drinks industry levy.

The Breastfeeding Network would like to see the Government go further. While focus on the problem of pervasive junk food advertising at children and families is essential, we must not ignore the role of breastfeeding in contributing to improved health outcomes for children and mothers and offering protection against obesity. The positive research from WHO is another crucial building block of evidence of the health protection benefits that breastfeeding offers, and it is one that Government should not ignore.

References:

UK breastfeeding rates are low. Although 81% of mothers in the UK begin to breastfeed, by six weeks that has fallen to 24% in England, 17% in Wales and 13% in Northern Ireland, 8 in 10 women said they gave up breastfeeding before they wanted to, according to the latest data, from 2010 Infant Feeding Survey: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/infant-feeding-survey/infant-feeding-survey-uk-2010

A full list of studies can be found on the Unicef Baby Friendly site here (infant health) and here (maternal health).

Contact: Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Breastfeeding Network

08 May

This Mum Runs: Breastfeeding at the London Marathon

This is Hannah – you may recognise her from recent social media posts, after she was interviewed while running the London Marathon last month. What’s so special about that, you might wonder? Well, not many runners had scheduled stops to breastfeed their eight-month-old daughter along the way. We were blown away by Hannah’s achievement – here’s what she had to say when we caught up with her for a chat.

I have previously run marathons before, Manchester marathon I had ran 3 times. I had run London once before in 2017 and had gained a ‘good for age’ place for 2018. However, I fell pregnant and deferred my entry to 2019. Once my daughter Skye came 2 weeks late (and via emergency c-section), I felt it took me a very long time to feel myself again and have energy and a want to run – or move any faster than walking! Being a first time mum who decided to exclusively breastfeed, I found myself exhausted. I spent the first 16 weeks still feeling battered and bruised. 

But I felt like this might be only chance to run the London marathon again, as it is so very hard to get in through the ballot. 

My training was non-existent, after about 5 months I managed to walk/run 5km. I used to really enjoy running pre-baby, but did not enjoy running these very few times I went out. I was slow, it was hard. I took Skye in her pram a couple of times – it wasn’t a running specific pram but I was going sooo slowly I decided it would be okay and tried to include it whilst she was sleeping. In March I did my local park run (5km) without baby and then 2 weeks later my partner and I did a 10km run. That was the first time I ran 8km without stopping. At the beginning of April I decided I was going to do the marathon. My partner, Max, is a teacher and I said I was going to use the Easter holidays to try to run, while he was around to look after Skye. In that time I managed about 4 runs, which got me up to 10 miles the weekend before the marathon. 

On the day of the marathon, I had planned for Max to come with me to the start of the race and I was going to give Skye a feed before I went in. However, I had fed her from 6am-7am and she was asleep as I continued to get ready to leave – so I made the tricky decision to leave her at home and just meet them both at our first meeting spot. We had arranged meeting points ahead of time, at around 13.1 miles, 21 miles, and finally at the end, where I fed her before starting our journey home. I had packed Skye some food for the day – cucumber, celery, green beans and baby corn. We started weaning a couple of months ago so I thought of things she may enjoy whilst waiting for feeds.

We didn’t make any special arrangements with the stewards or race organisers ahead of time. When I reached our designated feeding spots there were an awful lot of people, it was really crowded. For my first feed I came off the race course and sat behind the crowd on a little wall. Later on, a nice marshal said I could lean against the railing of the race and I sat down on the curb and fed her there. The marshal was really nice and offered me food and drinks, as well as another member of the public who passed by and gave me some blueberries.

My tip to any other mums who are thinking about embarking on big fitness challenges would be, go for it! Get yourself a good bra that is supportive. Train when you can, don’t put any pressure on yourself. If you don’t feel like going for that run or doing that class, don’t, go later or rearrange. If you do it and you don’t enjoy it, stop. Be flexible and adaptable. 

I would definitely do the London marathon or a different marathon again. I will be shuffling my way through Hackney Half marathon in ten days, but I won’t need to feed Skye along the way, just before and after.  And then I’ll be putting my feet up for a while!

If Hannah has inspired you to get your trainers on, why not sign up for BfN’s Mums’ Milk Run? You can set your own challenge (it needn’t be a marathon, or even a run!) and any funds you raise will be used to help support breastfeeding families. The event runs throughout May – click here for more info and to register:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/get-involved/fundraising/mums-milk-run/

08 May

Consensus Statement on Sustainable Funding for Public Health

We call on Government to increase investment in public health in England to prevent ill health, reduce health inequalities, and support a sustainable health and social care system.

Public health is facing a funding crisis. The NHS Five Year Forward View argues that “the future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health”.[i]Despite this, the Government has continued to cut the Public Health Grant year-on-year. Because of this, local authorities’ ability to provide the vital functions that prevent ill health are being severely compromised.

In the 2015 Budget, the Chancellor announced a £200 million in-year cut to the Public Health Grant, followed by a further real-terms cut averaging 3.9% each year (until 2020/21) in the 2015 Spending Review.[ii] Overall, the Public Health Grant is expecting to see a £700 million real-terms reduction  between 2014/15 and 2019/20—a fall of almost a quarter (23.5%) per person.[iii] In 2019/20, every local authority has less to spend on public health than the year before. According to analysis by the Health Foundation, almost all local authority public health services faced cuts between 2014/15 and 2019/20: for example, spending on stop smoking services and tobacco control are expected to fall by 45%; sexual health spending is expected to fall by 25% and specialist drug and alcohol services for young people is expected to be cut by over 41%.iii

Local authorities have made efficiencies through better commissioning, but cuts are nevertheless impacting frontline prevention services. As an example, research conducted by Action on Smoking and Health and Cancer Research UK shows that, following year-on-year reductions to the Public Health Grant since 2015, stop smoking services have been persistently cut across local authorities. Now, the majority (56%) of local authorities are no longer able to offer a stop smoking service to all smokers in their area.[iv]

Taking funds away from public health is a false economy. Unless we restore public health, our health and care system will remain locked in a ‘treatment’ approach, which is neither sustainable nor protects the health of the population as it should. In the UK, smoking caused an estimated 115,000 deaths in 2015,[v] whilst alcohol caused around 7,700 deaths in 2017.[vi] In England, there were around 617,000 hospital admissions where obesity was a factor in 2016/17.[vii] These preventable factors increase the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, lung and heart conditions, musculoskeletal conditions and poor mental health. Obesity alone is estimated to cost the NHS £5.1 billion every year, with wider costs estimated to be around three times this amount.[viii]

The Government must equip local authorities with adequate resources to provide vital public health functions. The Government currently plans to phase out the Public Health Grant by 2020/21, after which they propose to fund public health via a 75% business rates retention scheme. Whatever model is ultimately implemented, it must generate enough funding for local authorities to deliver their public health responsibilities, enable transparency and accountability, and be equitable so that areas with greater health needs receive proportional funding.

In her speech on 18 June 2018, the Prime Minister called for a renewed focus on the prevention of ill-health: “Whether it is cancer, heart disease, diabetes or a range of mental illnesses, we increasingly know what can be done to prevent these conditions before they develop – or how to ameliorate them when they first occur. This is not just better for our own health, a renewed focus on prevention will reduce pressures on the NHS too.”[ix]

We urge the Government to deliver on this promise by increasing investment in public health in England.

This statement is supported by:

Action on Smoking and Health

Action on Smoking and Health Wales

Age UK

Alcohol Change UK (formally Alcohol Research UK)

Alcohol Health Alliance

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers

Association of Directors of Public Health

Association for the Study of Obesity

Beat Charity

Breast Cancer Care & Breast Cancer Now

Breastfeeding Network

British Association of Sexual Health and HIV

British Heart Foundation

British HIV Association

British Liver Trust

British Lung Foundation

British Medical Association

Brook

Cancer Research UK

Centre for Mental Health

Children’s Liver Disease Foundation

CLIC Sargent

Collective Voice

County Councils Network

Dementia UK

Diabetes UK

Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare

First Steps Nutrition Trust

FPA

Health Action Campaign

Health Equalities Group

Health Foundation

Healthy Stadia

Helping Overcome Obesity Problems

HENRY

Hope UK

Institute of Alcohol Studies

Institute of Health Visiting

IPPR

IPPR North

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Kidney Research UK

La Leche League GB

LGBT Foundation

Local Government Association

Local Government Information Unit

Localis

Macmillan Cancer Support

Mayor, Greater Manchester

Mayor of London

Mayor, Sheffield City Region

Mental Health Foundation

Mental Health Research UK

Mentor

Metro Mayor, Liverpool City Region

Mind

NAM aidsmap

National AIDS Trust

New Local Government Network

NHS Clinical Commissioners

NHS Providers

Obesity Health Alliance

Positive East

Release

Royal College of Anaesthetists

Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Royal College of General Practitioners

Royal College of Nursing

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Surgeons

Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

Royal Society for Public Health

SANE

School and Public Health Nurses Association

Substance Misuse Management Good Practice

Sustain

Terence Higgins Trust

UK National Kidney Federation

Versus Arthritis

World Cancer Research Fund

YoungMinds


References

[i] NHS England. Five Year Forward View.

[ii] Public Health England. Annual budget allocations 2016/17.

[iii] The Health Foundation. Briefing: Taking our health for granted – plugging the public health grant funding gap.

[iv] Action on Smoking and Health & Cancer Research UK. A changing landscape: Stop smoking services and tobacco control in England.

[v] Peto R, Lopez A, Boreham J, et al. Mortality from smoking in developed countries 1950-2010.

[vi] Office of National Statistics. Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2017.

[vii] NHS Digital. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet – England, 2019.

[viii] House of Commons Health Committee. Childhood obesity – brave and bold action. 2015.

[ix] Prime Minister’s Office. PM speech on the NHS.