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With obesity rates continuing to climb, recent research has aimed to identify what factors—other than the obvious eating too much and not exercising enough—might contribute to a person’s chance of becoming overweight. Some studies have suggested that beyond lifestyle factors and genetic make up, overnutrition early in life could set the stage for weight problems later.
The new report combined the results of two separate studies (with a total of 243 children) that compared the effects of a standard infant formula with that of a nutrient-enriched one (that was higher in protein and calories) on growth promotion in the first few months of life, and on the chances of having more body fat at five to eight years of age. The children were all born small for gestational age, meaning that they were below the 20th percentile for weight at birth.
The nutrient-enriched formula used in one of the studies was provided by Farley’s Health Products (Farley’s PremCare). (A similar product is available from Gerber, called Good Start Premature 24.) The infants were assigned to receive either the standard or nutrient-enriched formula until six to nine months of age. Fat mass was measured at follow-up to assess the long-term effects of the different formulas.
Babies assigned to receive the nutrient-enriched formula were significantly heavier and longer than the standard formula babies at six to nine months in one study, but not the other. In both studies, children who were assigned the nutrient-enriched formula in infancy had more fat mass in childhood than the standard formula children—up to 38% more in one study. “These data support a causal link between faster early weight gain and a later risk of obesity,” said the study’s authors. “These results suggest that the primary prevention of obesity could begin in infancy, with major implications for cardiovascular disease risk and public health,” said the UK researchers.
These findings are in line with others that have found that about 20% of the risk of becoming overweight in adulthood can be attributed to infant nutrition (formula feeding instead of breast-feeding) or to being in the highest group for weight gain in infancy.
So while no one is saying to put your baby on a diet, it’s probably best to opt for a standard formula if you can’t breast-feed—even if your baby was born on the small side.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2010;doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29302)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.