Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) claim that many Australians have higher chronic disease risk because they missed out on breastfeeding when they were babies.

Dr. Julie Smith and Dr. Peta Harvey of ANU's Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health found that the country's chronic disease problem today involves 90 percent of 35- to 45-year-old Australian who were weaned off breastfeeding before six months of age during the 1960s.  

The findings prompted Smith and Harvey to say that more than one in 10 Australians will face heightened risk of acquiring chronic disease later in life because they were not breastfed.

Many public health measures to prevent chronic disease are ineffective or expensive to sustain. But being breastfed for a time in infancy reduces the long-term risk of chronic disease. Few other one-off preventative health interventions show consistent, long term effects in reducing chronic disease, Science Daily quoted Smith as saying.

Smith acknowledged that paid maternity leave promotes breastfeeding but that changes are still needed in the health system and the community to encourage mothers to breastfeed.

The study entitled Chronic disease and infant nutrition: Is it significant to public health? is published in the international journal Public Health Nutrition.