Early life diet and its impact on future health

10 November 2016
Woman breastfeeding

A review of more than 40 studies has found that a child’s risk of becoming overweight or obese reduces if they are breastfed.

The evaluation also finds that lowering protein levels in infant formula could be a promising intervention in helping to reduce a child’s risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The study, published in Obesity Reviews, reviewed more than 40 systemic reviews of nutritional interventions and exposures to certain foods in children up to the age of three.

As well as breastfeeding and infant formula, it also looked at the introduction of complementary food, sugar sweetened beverages and energy intake.  None of these seemed to have a significant outcome on a child’s risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Key findings include:

  • There’s a consistent association of breastfeeding with a modest 13% reduction of the odds of an infant becoming overweight or obese  in childhood and adult life (but confounding factors cannot be ruled out).

  • A randomised controlled trial has shown that children’s BMI is significantly lower in those fed lower-protein-formula compared with the higher-protein-formula group.

  • Lowering the protein content of infant formula may be a promising intervention to reduce the risk of a child becoming overweight or obese, but more studies are needed.

  • There is no evidence to demonstrate any long-term effects of infant formula supplemented with selected ‘probiotic’ bacteria or non-digestible carbohydrates on BMI.

  • There is no evidence that formula supplemented with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids is protective against later obesity.

  • There is no consistent evidence of an association between the earlier introduction of complementary foods before 15 weeks or 4 months and later childhood fat deposits.

  • There is no conclusive evidence of a relationship between fat intake, protein intake and dairy intake in the first years of life childhood BMI or later obesity.

The authors say more research in this area is needed to gather conclusive evidence about how early life dietary patterns may or may not influence the later risk of a child becoming overweight or obese.