A recent study carried out by the MRC Childhood Nutrition Research Centre has suggested a link between obesity and formula fed children. However, experts have critiscised the study as it focused on fat mass and did not look at Body Mass Index (BMI), a standard measure of obesity.
BMI gives a more accurate measure of body fatness and is derived from commonly available data such as weight and height. Moreover, as the children were not followed up into adolescence and adulthood, it may be incorrect to say that overfeeding in early infancy primes children for a life of obesity. It is well-known that adolescence is another critical period for the development of obesity.
The relationship between over-feeding and obesity is a complex one. Predisposing factors to obesity also include genetics, lack of stimulation in the home, low socioeconomic status, maternal obesity and an inactive lifestyle. These factors should be addressed in any study that predicts the development of obesity.
Changing patterns of physical activity during the last two decades have played a potential part in the epidemic of obesity. Babies spend more time in containers such as car seats, carriers, bouncers, swings, walkers and strap-in chairs than is good for their development. Sedentary babies also run the risk of turning fat cells into fatty tissue, which can be hard to control in later life. Children are less active than they have ever been. Too much time spent watching television or playing video and computer games can prime them for a life of inactivity and poor eating habits. Having a television in the bedroom has been reported to be a strong predictor of overweight in preschool-aged children. The best health conditions are provided through active play, exploration, movement activities and good nutrition.
Although the study supports the case for breastfeeding, the psychological stress of social stigmatization imposed on parents who over-feed their babies may be damaging to the parent-baby relationship. Furthermore, high protein intake or overfeeding has not consistently revealed effects on childhood obesity. Thus, health professionals are strongly encouraged to incorporate guidance about bottle-feeding in a non-judgmental, blame-free manner. Maintaining a healthy weight involves balancing the number of calories consumed with the number of calories the body burns during physical activity. Thus the optimal approach to prevention needs to combine dietary and physical activity interventions.
Dr Lin Day is a child psychologist and founder of Baby Sensory, provider of baby development classes running in over 200 locations in the UK. Currently one in 100 babies attends a Baby Sensory class – www.babysensory.com