British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Type of milk feeding in infancy and health behaviours in adult life: findings from the Hertfordshire Cohort Study

Siân Robinsona1 c1, Georgia Ntania1, Shirley Simmondsa1, Holly Syddalla1, Elaine Dennisona1, Avan Aihie Sayera1, David Barkera1, Cyrus Coopera1 and the Hertfordshire Cohort Study Groupa1

a1 MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK


A number of studies suggest that breast-feeding has beneficial effects on an individual's cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, although the mechanisms involved are unknown. One possible explanation is that adults who were breastfed differ in their health behaviours. In a historical cohort, adult health behaviours were examined in relation to type of milk feeding in infancy. From 1931 to 1939, records were kept on all infants born in Hertfordshire, UK. Their type of milk feeding was summarised as breastfed only, breast and bottle-fed, or bottle-fed only. Information about adult health behaviours was collected from 3217 of these men and women when they were aged 59–73 years. Diet was assessed using an administered FFQ; the key dietary pattern was a ‘prudent’ pattern that described compliance with ‘healthy’ eating recommendations. Of the study population, 60 % of the men and women were breastfed, 31 % were breast and bottle-fed, and 9 % were bottle-fed. Type of milk feeding did not differ according to social class at birth, and was not related to social class attained in adult life. There were no differences in smoking status, alcohol intake or reported physical activity according to type of milk feeding, but there were differences in the participants' dietary patterns. In a multivariate model that included sex and infant weight gain, there were independent associations between type of feeding and prudent diet scores in adult life (P= 0·009), such that higher scores were associated with having been breastfed. These data support experimental findings which suggest that early dietary exposures can have lifelong influences on food choice.

(Received June 20 2011)

(Revised February 15 2012)

(Accepted February 19 2012)

(Online publication July 05 2012)

Key Words:

  • Breast-feeding;
  • Food choice;
  • Dietary patterns;
  • Health behaviours


c1 Corresponding author: S. Robinson, fax +44 23 8070 4021, email


  Abbreviations: HCS, Hertfordshire Cohort Study