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22 May 2013
Adult obesity programmed in first 24 months of life

Being overweight at age two puts you on a trajectory where you are likely to be overweight as an adult, say Brigham Young University researchers who have been investigating the effect of infant feeding patterns in later life.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 8,000 families and found that babies predominantly fed formula were 2.5 times more likely to become obese toddlers than babies who were breastfed for the first six months. But, the study authors stress, this pattern is not just about breastfeeding.

"There seems to be this cluster of infant feeding patterns that promote childhood obesity," said Ben Gibbs, lead author of the study that appears in Pediatric Obesity.

Other factors the researchers identified included:

  • Putting babies to bed with a bottle increased the risk of childhood obesity by 36 percent.
  • Introducing solid foods too soon - before four months of age - increased a child's risk of obesity by 40 percent.

The researchers say that bottle feeding somehow changes the feeding dynamic, and those who bottle feed, alone or mixed with some breastfeeding, are more likely to add cereal or sweeteners to their infant's bottle at an early age.

"Developing this pattern of needing to eat before you go to sleep, those kinds of things discourage children from monitoring their own eating patterns so they can self-regulate," said co-researcher Renata Forste.

She added that the nature of breastfeeding lends itself to helping babies recognize when they feel full and should stop. But that same kind of skill can be developed by formula-fed infants.

"You can still do things even if you are bottle feeding to help your child learn to regulate their eating practices and develop healthy patterns," Forste said. "When a child is full and pushes away, stop! Don't encourage them to finish the whole bottle."

The researchers believe the findings strongly indicate that the origins of the obesity epidemic are in early childhood. "I don't think this is some nascent, unimportant time period. It's very critical," notes Gibbs.

"If you are overweight at age two, it puts you on a trajectory where you are likely to be overweight into middle childhood and adolescence and as an adult," added Forste. "That's a big concern."

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Source: Brigham Young University


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