Earlier this fall, in Parts One and Two of National Childhood Obesity Month: the links between infant feeding and obesity, we zeroed in on what obesity looks like in the U.S. and how infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and other perinatal factors influence the obesity epidemic. This week, Our Milky Way caught up with the authors of Childhood Obesity and Breastfeeding Rates in Pennsylvania Counties—Spatial Analysis of the Lactation Support Landscape. Anna Blair, Ellie MacGregor and Nikki Lee’s work explores the inverse relationship between geographic access to professional Lactation support providers (LSPs) and childhood obesity in Pa. counties.
Their analysis recognizes that interventions to reduce childhood obesity are multi-faceted and must include several components. The authors share that they looked through the lens of breastfeeding support because of the empirical evidence suggesting that exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing for at least one to two years, can be a contributing factor to lower rates of childhood obesity.
“We then became interested in exploring the relationship between access to qualified lactation support professionals and childhood obesity rates with the hopes of seeing a positive correlation between access to more professionals and lower rates of childhood obesity,” the authors share. “We hypothesized that, if an area has greater access to qualified lactation support providers, then breastfeeding rates would be higher, and, through the transitive property, childhood obesity rates would also be lower in those areas. This research is merely correlational, but we feel that it supports the overwhelming body of research suggesting that we need more qualified lactation support providers in order to support healthier generations moving forward.”
Their work pinpointed the least amount of CLCs in northwest Pa. counties, excluding Erie county.
“This is, at least in part, due to the rural nature of the area geographically,” the authors comment. “The Healthy Children Project’s Center for Breastfeeding has historically targeted and traveled to rural areas with the goal of increasing lactation support in those areas most in need.”
They go on to explain that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all in-person training courses and ALPP CLC examinations have been halted.
In 2019 when the paper was written, there were 617 CLCs in Pa. As of Fall 2021, there are 662 CLCs in Pa.
“Albeit a small change, we see this as a positive externality of the pandemic in the sense that access may have increased by offering the Lactation Counselor Training Course through the Center for Breastfeeding and the ALPP CLC examination online,” the authors offer. “It is the hope of the Center for Breastfeeding and ALPP to be able to travel to rural Pennsylvania in the future to assist in increasing the number of qualified lactation support providers in that area.”
Blair, MacGregor and Lee also report that the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics includes the Northwest counties as a target region to encourage and offer breastfeeding education to staff in pediatric offices and hospitals. Although folks enrolled in those educational programs will not receive a credential, they will become more knowledgeable and more confident in their ability to provide accurate and timely breastfeeding support to families.
The authors end on an important note: “Our intent with this paper was to shed light on the fact that all lactation support providers are valuable members in the lactation landscape, and we desperately need more providers working, and being paid for their work, in the field. All efforts to increase reimbursement for lactation support services and to incentivize lactation support as a career path should be equitable and inclusive to all qualified types of lactation support providers.”