Plump and chubby-cheeked babies may look cute but there is a growing awareness that being overweight does not mean a child is healthy.
According to the European Union’s EarlyNutrition project, the largest effort worldwide investigating programming effects for health, the increasing number of overweight children worldwide is becoming a serious health concern. Down the road it can lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases.
The president of the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Dr. Berthold V. Koletzko, in a press conference held April 20, 2015, explained the importance of the nutrition given to babies in their first 1,000 days of life.
According to Dr. Koletzko, rapid weight gain in these first days lead to an increased risk of the child being overweight and obese later in life.
This is especially true for babies who are fed formula milk with high protein content. Protein has programming effects on a child’s later health which increases the likelihood of obesity in the future, he added.
A study was done with three separate groups of infants fed breastmilk and formulae with higher and lower protein contents. The research spanned 6 years up until the infants were preschool aged.
The data analysis showed that the formula with higher protein content led to an increased body mass index (BMI) more than breastmilk at early school age. On the other hand, formula with lower protein content normalized BMI evolution, and markedly reduced obesity.
Dr. Koletzko explained that breastfeeding lowers the risk for later obesity by 15-25% compared to bottle feeding, adding that breastmilk is the perfect match for a baby’s nutritional needs.
So what can parents bear in mind about feeding protein to infants? Dr. Koletzko shares the following observations:
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Infant feeding has powerful long-term programming effects, with very large effect sizes on obesity at early school age;
Breastfeeding appears to causally protect against later obesity which seems mediated in part by protein supply;
Therefore, breastfeeding should be actively promoted, protected and supported;
Infants not fully breastfed should get infant formulae with reduced protein contents but high protein quality;
The feeding of unmodified cows’ milk as a drink should be avoided in the first year of life whenever possible, because cow’s milk contains three times as much protein as human milk.
“Infants are not small adults,” said Dr. Koletzko, emphasizing that they do not have the same nutritional needs, like an abudant amount of protein, as full-grown humans. For them, “It’s more about quality than quantity.”