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Earn More Money with Breastfeeding

According to a recent study, even marginal increases in breast feeding rates could be worth millions to society when considering the benefit
to cognitive development.

UK and German researchers came to this conclusion after calculations using over 10,000 school exam results. Using a model based on the assumption that improved UK General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam results meant higher future salaries, researchers calculated that if the UK saw a 1% increase in breastfeeding rates, the 800,000 children born in the UK per year could collectively earn over £33 million (€40 million) more over their working lifetime.

The study used breastfeeding rates from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), an ongoing cohort of 14,541 recruited pregnant women in 1991 and a consequent 13,988 children (that lived until 12 months). Fast forward 16 years and the researchers assessed the educational successes of these children, defined by the achievement of five high grade GCSE exam passes. GCSE scores were available for 10,107 of the children in the cohort. They found a positive association between being breast-fed and this education record, which remained significant after adjustment for possible confounders.

In the UK lifetime gross income was calculated to be £67,500 (€89,400) higher for individuals who had achieved five high-grade GCSE passes compared to those who had not. Using this model the researchers calculated that being breast-fed up to six months would increase the child’s expected lifetime income by £4208 (€5533). Breast-feeding for six months or more doubled this to £8799 (€11577).

Of the 10,000 children included in this research, 26% of them had never been breastfed, according to  the self-completion questionnaires. The researchers forecast just a 1% reduction of this non-breastfed rate would generate a total economic benefit of over £400,000 (about €500,000). If this 1% difference was applied to the total number of UK births of about 800,000 children per year, this would generate a gain of over £33 million (about €40 million) over the working lifetime.

“The model shows that the increased educational attainment associated with being breast-fed has a positive economic benefit for society, even from small improvements in breastfeeding rates," the researchers wrote.

They said other positive health effects of breastfeeding had not been included and therefore these calculations of economic benefits for the individual and society were likely to be an underestimation of the actual gains that could be made. They concluded that publicly-funded breastfeeding promotion was likely to be “highly cost-effective” and urged policymakers to take these calculations into consideration.

Source: Economic impact of breast-feeding-associated improvements of childhood cognitive development, based on data from the ALSPAC

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