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Ann Epidemiol. 2013 Oct;23(10):646-51. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2013.06.091. Epub 2013 Jul 21.

Does breastfeeding contribute to the racial gap in reading and math test scores?

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School of Social Work, College for Public Health & Social Justice, Saint Louis University, St Louis, MO. Electronic address:



The aim of this study was to examine the impact of divergent breastfeeding practices between Caucasian and African American mothers on the lingering achievement test gap between Caucasian and African American children.


The Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, beginning in 1997, followed a cohort of 3563 children aged 0-12 years. Reading and math test scores from 2002 for 1928 children were linked with breastfeeding history. Regression analysis was used to examine associations between ever having been breastfed and duration of breastfeeding and test scores, controlling for characteristics of child, mother, and household.


African American students scored significantly lower than Caucasian children by 10.6 and 10.9 points on reading and math tests, respectively. After accounting for the impact of having been breastfed during infancy, the racial test gap decreased by 17% for reading scores and 9% for math scores.


Study findings indicate that breastfeeding explains 17% and 9% of the observed gaps in reading and math scores, respectively, between African Americans and Caucasians, an effect larger than most recent educational policy interventions. Renewed efforts around policies and clinical practices that promote and remove barriers for African American mothers to breastfeed should be implemented.


Academic achievement; Breastfeeding; Child development

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