Breastfeeding in infancy linked to healthier weight in children.

Breastfeeding in infancy linked to healthier weight in children.

Breastfeeding and Soda Introduction in Infancy Impact Future Weight and Health: A New Study

Childhood obesity is a growing concern in today’s society, and researchers have been studying the effects of infant feeding on future weight and health. A recent study adds to the existing evidence by showing that breastfeeding for six months or longer can lead to a lower percentage of body fat in 9-year-olds compared to those who were never breastfed or received breast milk.

The study also found that children who were not given soda before the age of 18 months had less fat at the age of 9. Previous studies have focused on the link between infant feeding and obesity based on body mass index (BMI). However, this study used a more precise measure called percent fat mass, which represents the proportion of total weight attributable to body fat.

Lead researcher Catherine Cohen, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, highlighted the significance of infancy as a vulnerable life stage characterized by substantial developmental changes. Environmental exposures during this period can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s metabolism and physiology. The findings of this study suggest that the types of foods introduced during infancy may play a role in predisposing individuals to higher body fat accumulation in childhood. Additionally, these behaviors could be potential targets for interventions aimed at preventing the onset of obesity and related metabolic diseases.

To conduct this study, researchers analyzed data from over 700 mother-child pairs who participated in the Healthy Start study, which aims to investigate how a mother’s lifestyle and environment during pregnancy impacts her child’s growth and development. The mothers provided information about feeding practices, including whether the baby was breastfed or bottle-fed, and when complementary foods were introduced.

The results revealed that approximately two-thirds of the babies were breastfed for at least six months, and 73% started eating table foods at 5 months of age or older. Interestingly, the majority of babies (86%) did not have soda until after the age of 18 months.

At age 5, the average proportion of body weight attributable to fat was nearly 20%, which decreased to 18% by age 9. While infant feeding patterns did not show a direct influence on body fat at age 5, both shorter breastfeeding duration and early soda introduction were associated with faster increases in body fat between these two checkpoints and higher percentages of body fat at age 9.

In comparison to their counterparts who were breastfed for longer, infants breastfed for fewer than 6 months had 3.5% more body fat at age 9. Similarly, babies introduced to soda before 18 months of age had, on average, 7.8% more body fat at age 9. These findings highlight the potential impact of early soda exposure on childhood body fat accumulation, which may be even stronger than the effect of breastfeeding.

The introduction of complementary foods, however, did not seem to be connected to percent fat mass. This aspect requires further research, emphasizing the need to explore the quality of complementary foods introduced during infancy and toddlerhood as an important predictor of later obesity risk.

Cohen suggested several reasons for the higher body fat observed in children who were breastfed for a shorter period. Nutrient differences between breast milk and formula, appetite regulation, and the impact of human milk on the infant microbiome could all contribute to this association.

Dr. Michelle Katzow, medical director of the POWER Kids Weight Management Program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York City, expressed that these findings align with previous research. She highlighted that various factors, not just breast milk itself, could affect children’s fat mass, including breastfeeding at the breast versus using a bottle. The components of breast milk, especially related to the microbiome and appetite regulation, are areas that still require further investigation.

One interesting aspect Katzow mentioned is the way babies learn to regulate their intake during breastfeeding. Feeding at the breast teaches babies how to stop when they’re full, which may contribute to healthier eating habits compared to bottle-feeding. Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying these differences.

A key takeaway from this study is that soda or any sweetened drink is not necessary for infants and toddlers, including juice. Katzow emphasized the importance of supporting breastfeeding for those interested, ensuring it is accessible and stigma-free. However, it is equally vital not to stigmatize individuals who choose not to breastfeed or are unable to do so.

The findings of this study were presented at a meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, and it should be noted that findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

In conclusion, this study adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding for six months or longer and avoiding soda introduction before 18 months of age can have a positive impact on future weight and health. Further research is needed to explore the specific mechanisms underlying these associations and to investigate the quality of complementary foods introduced during infancy. By understanding the importance of infant feeding practices, society can develop interventions to prevent childhood obesity and related metabolic diseases.

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