The findings, published in Pediatric Obesity, suggest infants who are fed high amounts of formula may form habits of overconsumption that lead to an increased risk of obesity throughout life.
Led by Professors Ben Gibbs and Renata Forste from Brigham Young University, USA, the study finds that clinical obesity at 24 months of age strongly traces back to infant feeding -- with the team suggesting that encouraging a baby to finish their formula when full might do more harm than good -- even though increased calories taken in are generally burned off.
"There seems to be this cluster of infant feeding patterns that promote childhood obesity," explained Gibbs.
Indeed, the researchers found that putting babies to bed with a bottle increased the risk of childhood obesity by 36%, while introducing solid foods too soon - before four months of age - increased a child's risk of obesity by 40%.
"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 Forste.
"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," he warned. "That's a big concern."
Nestle and Mead Johnson Nutrition recently dismissed calls to remove genetically-modified organisms (GMO) from their infant formula products in the US and now evidence is coming forth on long-term risks related to infant formulations.
Epidemiological research has indicated a relationship between infant formula feeding and increased risk of chronic diseases later in life including obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Researchers stated that the comprehensive metabolic implications of formula vs breast-feeding play a role in long-term health risks.
Previous research has shown that babies fed a dairy-based formula grow up to have higher blood pressure than babies who are breast-fed, British researchers reported.
Babies fed enriched bottle milk are also more likely to be obese by the age of five.
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.
However, the researchers noted that this pattern is not just about breastfeeding - reiterating that that moving infants on to solid food too early, or consuming food just before bed time also had significant effects on later obesity risk.
Forste added that when a child is full, and pushes away their bottle, they should not be encouraged to finish the rest of the bottle as this begins to form a habit of over consumption.
"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, even before feeding cereal with a spoon," added Sally Findley, a public health professor at Columbia University, USA.
The next project for Gibbs and Forste is to re-evaluate the link between breastfeeding and cognitive development in childhood.
"The health community is looking to the origins of the obesity epidemic, and more and more, scholars are looking toward early childhood," Gibbs said. "I don't think this is some nascent, unimportant time period. It's very critical."
A simple comparison of breast milk over formula shows its superiority:
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.
| NUTRIENT FACTOR
|| BREAST MILK CONTAINS
|| FORMULA CONTAINS
||Rich in brain-building omega 3s, namely DHA and AA
-Automatically adjusts to infant's needs; levels decline as baby gets older
-Rich in cholesterol
-Nearly completely absorbed
-Contains fat-digesting enzyme, lipase
-Doesn't adjust to infant's needs
-Not completely absorbed
| Fat is the most important nutrient in breastmilk; the absence of cholesterol and DHA, vital nutrients for growing brains and bodies, may predispose a child to adult heart and central nervous system diseases. Leftover, unabsorbed fat accounts for unpleasant smelling stools in formula-fed babies.
-Soft, easily-digestible whey
-More completely absorbed; higher in the milk of mothers who deliver preterm
-Lactoferrin for intestinal health
-Lysozyme, an antimicrobial
-Rich in brain-and-body- building protein components
-Rich in growth factors
-Contains sleep-inducing proteins
-Harder-to-digest casein curds
-Not completely absorbed, more waste, harder on kidneys
-No lactoferrin, or only a trace
-Deficient or low in some brain-and body-building proteins
-Deficient in growth factors
-Does not contain as many sleep-inducing proteins.
| Infants aren't allergic to human milk protein.
-Rich in lactose
-Rich in oligosaccharides, which promote intestinal health
-No lactose in some formulas
-Deficient in oligosaccharides
| Lactose is considered an important carbohydrate for brain development. Studies show the level of lactose in the milk of a species correlates with the size of the brain of that species.
-Rich in living white blood cells, millions per feeding
-Rich in immunoglobulins
-No live white blood cells-or any other cells. Dead food has less immunological benefit.
-Few immunoglobulins and most are the wrong kind
| When mother is exposed to a germ, she makes antibodies to that germ and gives these antibodies to her infant via her milk.
-Better absorbed, especially iron, zinc, and calcium
-Iron is 50 to 75 percent absorbed.
-Contains more selenium (an antioxidant)
-Not absorbed as well
-Iron is 5 to 10 percent absorbed
-Contains less selenium (an antioxidant)
| Vitamins and minerals in breast milk enjoy a higher bioavailability-that is, a greater percentage is absorbed. To compensate, more is added to formula, which makes it harder to digest.
-Rich in digestive enzymes, such as lipase and amylase
-Rich in many hormones: thyroid, prolactin, oxytocin, and more than fifteen others
-Varies with mother's diet
-Processing kills digestive enzymes
-Processing kills hormones, which are not human to begin with
-Always tastes the same
| Digestive enzymes promote intestinal health. Hormones contribute to the overall biochemical balance and well- being of baby.
By taking on the flavor of mother's diet, breastmilk shapes the tastes of the child to family foods.
-Around $600 a year in extra food for mother
-Around $1,200 a year
-Up to $2,500 a year for hypoallergenic formulas
-Cost for bottles and other supplies
-Lost income when baby is ill