Research: Formula-Fed Babies At Higher Risk For Obesity

By Dennis Douda, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Good eating habits need to start young — really young, as in the first months of infancy.

In a new study from Children’s Hospital Boston, pediatrics followed nearly 900 children.

Those on formula, who were given solid foods before 4 months of age were six times more likely to be obese by the time they turned 3 than those being breastfed.

It seems to be another case where the breastfed baby has an advantage. Even if solid foods are introduced to breastfed babies  before 4-months, there was no increased risk for obesity, the study shows.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says breast milk alone gives babies the best nutrition possible.

“Children don’t need solid food prior to four months. The breast milk and the formula is really enough for them,” said Alanna Levine, a pediatrician.

The recommendation is to begin introducing solid foods at 6 months including infant cereal, teething biscuits and fruit.

While 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent exclusively breastfeed for the full six months.

Earlier this month, the U.S. surgeon general strongly urged an increase in breastfeeding.  Breastfed babies have a lower incidence of ear infections, pneumonia, asthma and allergies.

They also enjoy a lower lifetime risk of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.

  • tammy

    breast milk

  • Sally

    So, if breastfeeding is the solution to everything, then why are children becoming obese at an alarming rate when over 75% of women breastfeed? Seems like the real link to obesity is introducing foods before 4 months of age. The article even says- “Children don’t need solid food prior to four months.” Or maybe the real link to obesity is lifestyle choices in the home environment.

  • Eartha

    Breastfed babes are porkers and have higher rate of respiratory problems. They learn to never stop eating. All of my breastfed nieces are fat teens while the formula girls are thin and active.

    • Anna

      That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Anyone who can flip a quick google search can disprove your statement faster than you can write ‘fat teen.’

  • Beth

    I completely disagree with this “scientific” finding. I didn’t breastfeed ANY of my kids and neither did my mother. Not one of my three children or any of us SIX kids are obese or even overweight. As a matter of fact, we are skinny as rails. I think obesity has NOTHING to do with breastfeeding or bottle feeding and introducing solids early and everything to do with parents not instilling good eating habits from day one. Children learn through example as well. Perhaps if parents quit letting their children chow down on unhealthy food, obesity wouldn’t be as much of an issue anymore. My kids love fruits and vegetables and yet I am not a health nut. We have candy and other sugary snacks in the house and my kids ask for them. They have learned, however, that there is an appropriate time to eat sweets, as a treat, and most of the time, they aren’t good for us to eat. A simple NO would help a great deal of parents these days as well as better eating habits.

  • Nichole

    Wow! Eartha, Beth. Feeling a little guilty for not breast feeding? I’ll take the scientists word for it. Thanks.

    • Jenny

      Here is another scientific study for you.

      Myth 23: Breastfeeding prevents obesity
      Posted on January 26, 2009 by Angeline Duran Piotrowski

      1-23babybottle1According to David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Southampton, UK and professor of Cardiovascular in the Department of Medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University and one of the authors of the report, “A longer period of breastfeeding was associated with lower BMI (a measure for weight) at one year of age. This relationship disappeared by the age of 7 years.” Similarly, there was no significant difference in BMI at the age of 60 years associated with duration of breastfeeding.

      These findings may help explain why some studies that examined breastfed infants during the first year of life suggested a protective effect of breastfeeding and obesity, whereas other studies that examined the relationship later in life have found no such effect.

      The report appearing in the February edition of the Journal of Nutrition features Dr. Barker and other nutrition experts who presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting last year. The session, Infant Feeding and the Development of Obesity: What Does the Science Tell Us?, brought together international experts in the field of infant nutrition to present their recent research that employed new methodology such as randomized clinical trials (involving breastfeeding promotion) as well as sibling pair analysis . Another session presenter, Michael Kramer, M.D., pediatrician and perinatal epidemiologist at McGill University, reported findings from his breastfeeding promotion intervention trial that support Dr. Barker’s results. Dr. Kramer’s research found that while breastfeeding promotion increased breastfeeding it did not reduce the development of obesity at 6.5 years of age..

      Dr. Barker, whose study examined breastfeeding in a large group of sibling pairs that were followed into their late 60s, stated, “This type of study design controls for maternal factors. Differences in the long-term effects of breast and bottle feeding may reflect differences in the mothers rather than the effects of feeding itself.” Maternal factors include maternal health status, maternal care-giving, mother–child interactions or other health-related behaviors of the mother that may interfere with determining the association of infant feeding and health outcomes and the strength of any possible associations. Additionally, he added that his study augments the current literature on infant feeding, as “few studies have examined whether the duration of breastfeeding is associated with fatness in adult life.”

    • Beth

      Guilty? HA! Not so. I have healthy children. Just because I’m not a sheep like the rest of the world doesn’t make me guilty. I have the ability to weigh pros and cons when it comes to decision making and just because someone says to do one thing doesn’t mean it is the right thing. Scientists skew and interpret their results they way THEY want just so they can prove their point. Some completely unbiased opinion could look over their “experiment” on breast fed vs bottle fed babies becoming obese and interpret the results completely different. Look at global warming. Some believe, some don’t. Does that mean that everyone who is in disagreement feels guilty? Give me a break. It is a difference of opinion. Get off your high horse.

      • Jen

        But that doesn’t change the fact that babies are MADE to eat breast milk. That is is the normal way to feed a baby. There isn’t a rational unbiased study that could say that formula/bottle feeding come close to breast feeding.

    • Anna

      You got it right on the money, Nichole. I don’t get how some women have children and then deny them the breast! It’s so backwards to feed your child dead bovine based powder and not from your own body, which they grew from.

      I’ll also take scientific fact, athankyouverymuch.

  • Jen

    Sally – 75% of mothers start out by breastfeeding, that is true. But that number drops to only 40% exclusively breastfeed through 3 months, and drops further to 17% exclusively breastfeed through 6 months. 75% is only the number that exclusively breastfeed in the early postpartum period. And those numbers are directly from the CDC website. And your right, feeding before 4 months of age is a big part of the link. But parents are more likely to add baby cereal to bottles to help them sleep through the night sooner, or to stretch the formula out, since it is so expensive. You obviously can’t do that with a breastfed baby.

    Eartha – your right, breastfeed babies are porkers, atleast to begin with. They are supposed to be chunky through the first 6 months or so, then they are usually leaner than their bottlefeed counter parts. I would love to see your statistics on breastfeed babies having a higher rate of respiratory problems, because simply put, I don’t think there is research to back up that claim.

    Beth – An exception does not make a rule. Congrats for keeping your kids and yourself healthy. Sounds like you have some good genetic on your side. But there is a reason that scientists don’t look at a pool of 9 people. It is simply not enough to get the larger picture.

    Breast feeding is NORMAL feeding. Breastmilk is what babies are expecting when they are born. Human milk for human babies, cows milk for cow babies!! There are so many more benefits to breastfeeding than what are mentioned here!

  • JKB

    BALONEY! All four of my kids were big babies ranging from 7#6 oz. to 10#15 oz, one was breast fed, all were started on cereals within two weeks of coming home from the hospital. Milk and breast milk were not enouh to satisy any of them. As soon as they got their first “real” food, they each slept the whole night, ending many nights of crying, or awake time. EACH one was started on table foods put through a blender before age one also. Today not one of them are overweight, lazy, or were sickly growing up. If darn near 50 years doesnt tell a story that most of these researchers dont know squat, I dont know what does. In our grandparents/great- grandparents days, do you think manufactured baby foods and formula’s were available? What do you think those babies were fed? For most of us our genes determines our future, if not that, then the exercise kids got when tv’s didnt play such an important part in our childrens lives. Kids had chores inside the home and outside to do. They burned off those calories. Kids played, they rode bikes as their main mode of transportation. There werent too many times we drove them to practice, shopping or many appointments, they hopped on their bikes. Everything was homeade from the cookies, cakes, pies and breads plus, our daily meals. Calories werent counted, we ate well balanced meals of meat,potatoes with gravy, and vegetables, and didnt worry about them. Look in the aisles of your grocery stores, you only have to see the many quick fix meals to know most are processed foods, high in salt, and other junk that isnt good for us. I believe parents have to use their own brain to figure out what is best for their kids, their lifestyle and needs. There are all too many women that leave home today and dont even know how to decipher a cookbook to cook/bake up anything. The fast food joints were visited as a treat, and of course, many of our kids left school at noon hour to go there too, yet for most families overweight was just a word we heard of and didnt experience. Too many wonderful advances have been made to take the work out of everything we do creating lazy people who dont get the needed exercise today. Listen to your heart if you believe your child will benefit from breast feeding, do it. If you havent got the time to and decide formula is better suited to your lifestyle ,do it. Dont let the influence of others make your decisions. Researchers are too busy trying to find fault with everything and contradict themselves a lot, to believe every study they perform.

  • Eartha

    Fat babies are our future diabetics. Breast feeding until age one no longer melds with our current culture due to exposure to higher fat lifestyles. Environmental influence causes obesity and hind milk is the kick start.

  • Kelly

    This “study” is a complete lie. Do a little research & you can find the truth.

    “One myth surrounding Formula is that, babies who are given formula are more likely to become obese. One of the newer studies surrounding this issue was done just over a year ago by.Dr.Hillary Burdette, a nutrition specialist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr.Burdette says, “We found that there were no differences in body fat at age 5 between breast-fed and formula-fed infants,”.The new study was published in the March 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Burdette hopes her study will put an end to the debate that formula fed infants are more likely to become obese.”

  • e

    Kelly, if you have info on the Burdette study, it would be more helpful if you’d provide some links rather than just sensational words.

    The problem with studies of breast fed babies vs formula fed is the number of confounded variables. The study written up in the wcco article seems to fall into this category as well, so it probably doesn’t really say anything, despite what people would like to believe. The description of the Barker study (in the comments above) seems to have made an effort to get rid of some of these confounding variables. I’d be inclined to trust a study more if they at least made the effort to account for other maternal behaviors that might be correlated with breast feeding.

    • Kelly

      Look in the March 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

  • Donelle Omer Londgren

    If you look further into the breastfeeding statistics, you’ll see that much of that “75%” you speak of, Sally, discontinue breastfeeding much earlier than recommended. And some of that 75% also supplement with formula. Which is higher in protein content than a baby really needs.

    The article also says “Even if solid foods are introduced to breastfed babies before 4-months, there was no increased risk for obesity, the study shows.”
    No where in this article did I see that “if you do not breastfeed and you feed your baby solids he will grow into an obese child.” It’s just that the baby may be 6 times as likely to become obese.
    JKB, Feeding an infant solids too early could be harmful in other ways, as well. Their digestive system is still developing and solids (and yes, even formula, and in extreme cases breast milk) may be hard to digest. An infant can be hungry every single hour as the stomach is the size of a MARBLE when they are born. Their little bodies were not made to eat every 4 hours or so.
    All mine have been breastfed, we have supplemented with formula and solids didn’t start until 6months or later. They are all active kids and are tall and fit for their age.
    I would like to see what the lifestyles and diets were of the households of the study participants. That, I’m sure, would be a contributing factor.

  • Amanda

    Babies are supposed to be chubby!!!! I love my little chubby girl and plan on breastfeeding her AT LEAST a year! That is my personal choice and I think all moms only want what is best for their children- formula and breastfeeding moms alike. I am only sad for those moms who really WANTED to breastfeed, but were unsuccessful due to lack of support. I wish these types of articles would also offer suggestions to help some of these mamas out.

  • Amanda


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