Randall Lutter Awarded Grant to Study Cognitive Benefits of Breastfeeding

Randall Lutter


Batten School Senior Lecturer Randall Lutter was recently awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the economic value of improvements in cognitive performance attributable to breastfeeding. Dr. Lutter and colleagues will develop estimates of the economic value of improvements in cognitive function if breastfeeding practices in the U.S. and India were consistent with international guidelines. Most U.S. and developing country infants are breastfed less than is consistent with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. The project’s research results will be published in peer-reviewed journals at a later date.

“Recent research suggests that the cognitive effects of breastfeeding may be sufficiently large to merit additional research, and possibly more attention from policy-makers”, says Dr. Lutter.  In a meta-analysis of high-quality studies for the World Health Organization, Horta and Victora (2013), reported that breastfeeding was associated with an increase in IQ of 2.2 points. Noting that there were also two randomized trials that reported finding statistically significant effects, they concluded that there is strong evidence of a causal effect of breastfeeding on IQ. More recently, in a 30-year follow-up study of a population-based birth cohort, Horta et al. (2015) found an IQ gain of 3.76 IQ points as well as statistically significant increases in monthly incomes. Income gains that may result from higher IQs associated with breastfeeding have not been highlighted in earlier research on the health effects of breastfeeding, although they may be large enough to matter for health policy (Lutter and Lutter, 2012).

Dr. Lutter’s collaborators on this project include Dr. Chris Ruhm, Professor of Public Policy and Economics and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Batten School, Drs. Roger Cooke and Marc Hafstead of Resources for the Future, where Dr. Lutter is also Visiting Scholar, and Drs. Ramanan Laxminarayan and Arindam Nandi, of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, with offices in New Delhi and Washington, D.C.

Lutter previously served as deputy commissioner for policy at the Food and Drug Administration, as senior economist for the environment and regulation at the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and as senior economist at the Office of Management and Budget. His research and policy interests span a range of regulatory issues including the benefits and costs of federal regulation, food safety and nutrition, air pollution and genetically engineered animals.


Horta, B., and Victora, C. (2013). Long-Term Effects of Breastfeeding: A Systematic Review. World Health Organization. ISBN 978 92 4 150530 7. Available at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/79198/1/9789241505307_eng.pdf

Lutter, C., and R. Lutter. (2012). “Fetal and Early Childhood Undernutrition, Mortality and Lifelong Health”, Science, 337:1495-99. September 21, 2012.  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6101/1495

Victora, CG, Lessa Horta, BL, de Mola, CL et al. (2015). Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil. Lancet Glob Health. 3: e199–e205

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