Infant feeding habits predict childhood obesity

June 4, 2013

Formula-fed infants are about 2.5 times more likely to be obese by age 2 years than those who are breastfed for the first 6 months of life, according to a recent study.

 

Formula-fed infants are about 2.5 times more likely to be obese by age 2 years than those who are breastfed for the first 6 months of life, according to a recent study. Other practices in infancy that contribute to making an obese child include introducing solid foods before 4 months of age and putting babies to bed while they are drinking a bottle.

The findings come from researchers at Brigham Young University who analyzed data from more than 8,000 families. In addition to the 250% increased likelihood of childhood obesity associated with formula feeding versus breastfeeding, the nationally representative longitudinal study calculated that infants put to bed with a bottle were 36% more likely to be obese toddlers and those introduced to solid foods before aged 4 months were 40% more likely to be so.

Experts surmise that the increased risk has to do with formula-fed children being less likely to learn to self-regulate or stop eating when they are full. Mothers tend to try to make them finish all that is in the bottle, whereas moms who breastfeed tend to allow their children to stop feeding when they pull away from the breast.

In addition, mothers who bottle-feed are more likely to add cereal or sweeteners to their children’s bottles at an earlier age.

According to the National Institutes of Health, when children eat more than they need, their bodies store the extra calories in fat cells to use for energy later. If the pattern continues, and their bodies do not require the stored energy, they develop more fat cells, which can lead to obesity.

Rates of breastfeeding are lowest in low-income areas, which could help explain why rates of childhood obesity are so high among low-income, preschool-aged children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 7 low-income, preschool-aged children is obese.