Overfeeding Infants Linked to Obesity

Babies should be allowed to stop feeding when they signal they are full

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

(RxWiki News) Most moms urge kids to finish what they are served. But good intentions might not always translate into good outcomes. 

Contrary to common wisdom, it might be better to let babies stop feeding when they push the bottle away rather than encouraging them to finish their meal, according to a recent study.

This study suggests childhood obesity may have its roots in infant feeding practices.

"Do not force your baby to finish the bottle  "

The study was conducted by Drs. Ben Gibbs and Renata Forste from the department of Sociology, Brigham Young University. One of the main objectives of the study was to determine how feeding practices in infancy affect child obesity.

“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,” says Dr. Forste. “That’s a big concern.”

The researchers included data from 8,030 families. Data was collected first when the kids were 9 months old and again when they were 24 months old.

When the children were 24 months of age, the researchers measured weight and used Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts to determine if they were obese. The cut off was 15.3 kg or 34 pounds for boys and 14.9 kg or 33 pounds for girls, above which a child was termed as obese.

Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of obesity was also calculated. As per recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), boys who had a BMI higher than 18.0 and girls who had a BMI higher than 17.8 were defined as obese.

Mothers were asked several questions about feeding habits such as when they introduced formula and solid foods, when they stopped breastfeeding and whether they put the baby to bed with a bottle.

Analysis of the data showed that infants put to bed with a bottle were 36 percent more likely to be obese in their childhood.  The age at which solids were introduced in the diet was another factor. Introducing them before 4 months of age increased the risk of childhood obesity by 40 percent.

The results also showed that babies fed mostly formula for the first six months of life were 2.5 times more likely to be obese at 24 months than those breastfed for those six months. According to the authors, it is easier for breastfed babies to stop feeding on their own as compared to bottle-fed babies.

There was also another correlation which could have influenced the results further. Only 9 percent of predominantly breastfed infants were put to bed with a bottle as compared to 40 percent of predominantly formula fed babies.

“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,” Dr. Forste explains.

Moms of formula-fed infants need not lose hope. According to the authors, it is possible to help babies learn to regulate their eating patterns. Moms are encouraged to stop feeding babies as soon as they are full and push the bottle away.

Correlation between eating habits and obesity does not establish that food habits are a direct cause of obesity. Further studies in this area are needed to examine this relationship further.

“The health community is looking to the origins of the obesity epidemic, and more and more, scholars are looking toward early childhood. I don’t think this is some nascent, unimportant time period. It’s very critical,” says Dr. Gibbs. 

Dr. Joshua Evans, pediatrician on staff at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan at the Detroit Medical Center has some advice for parents, "This study seems to reinforce our understanding that the groundwork for obesity is laid in infancy for many children. Parents should ask their pediatrician about proper nutritional needs for their children. While breastfeeding has many advantages, those who choose to bottle feed should understand the requirements for their child at different ages. Often, parents may interpret the fact that their baby is fussy or crying as hunger, when in fact that might be feeling discomfort from being overfed. A pediatrician can help determine the appropriate amount of formula for your child's age and weight."

The study was published on May 20th, 2013 in Pediatric Obesity. The study did not receive any external funding. No conflicts of interest or relevant financial relationships were disclosed. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 24, 2013
Last Updated:
August 22, 2013