At the start of the study, the women averaged 51 years old and had an average of two children, the last having been born an average of 19 years earlier. The group included 43 percent blacks and 57 percent whites, and 84 percent of them had a high school education or more.
When divided into groups, 29 percent of the women had never breast-fed, 29 percent breast-fed inconsistently (less than three months for each child) and 42 percent consistently breast-fed (all children for at least three months each), according to McClure.
Women who were premenopausal or in early perimenopause and had never breast-fed were found to have 28 percent more belly fat than women who had breast-fed all of their children. The women who had not breast-fed had a waist circumference that measured an average of 2.6 inches more than that of women who consistently breast-fed, and their waist-to-hip ratio was 4.7 percent higher. Waist-to-hip ratio is also used to assess cardiovascular risk: The higher the result, the greater the risk for heart disease.
Women who hadn't breast-fed also did not fare well when compared with women who had never given birth. Premenopausal and early perimenopausal women who hadn't breast-fed had 42 percent more belly fat than women who'd never given birth.
However, the researchers didn't find any statistically significant differences in belly fat in women who were in late perimenopause and menopause.
"It's interesting that these researchers are starting to associate breast-feeding with a physiologic mechanism that may protect against heart disease, but the question remains: Was it a benefit of breast-feeding, or did these women have a healthier lifestyle throughout their lives?" said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the Women's Heart Program at the New York University Langone Medic
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