High-protein formula increases the risk of excess body fat in children

June 28, 2018, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
High-protein formula increases the risk of excess body fat in children
Credit: Halfpoint / Fotolia.com

Feeding infants with high-protein formula increases the risk of developing excess body fat by the age of 6. Moreover, in many such cases, Body Mass Index (BMI) does not reflect the true level of body fat, as LMU researchers have now shown.

The composition of the food that we receive in our first year of life has a persistent impact on health in later life. By programming long-term metabolic responses, early nutrition has a significant influence on the risk of becoming overweight or obese, conditions which themselves have wide-ranging and deleterious consequences for health. While in early childhood is known to be one of the major risk factors for obesity, the overall level of fat also plays a role – and this parameter does not necessarily correlate with body weight. Now, researchers led by LMU's Professor Berthold Koletzko, who heads the Division of Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine at Dr. von Hauner's Children's Hospital, have looked at the effects of the protein levels in infant formula on body composition at the age of 6 years. Their results are reported in the journal Obesity.

Earlier studies by Koletzko and colleagues had already measured the impact of this factor on weight gain in young . "In the context of an international project, we were able to show that children who received infant formula containing high levels of protein gained more weight during the first year of life and had a higher (BMI) at the age of 6 years than did who were fed with lower levels of protein," says Koletzko. Rapid weight gain in the course of the first year is a known risk factor for obesity. However, excess body fat could in fact play an even greater role in this than body per se.

In their latest retrospective study, Koletzko and his team focused on the accumulation of body fat, rather than body mass. To estimate levels of body fat, they analyzed data (obtained over a period of 6 years from the same study population as before) based on measurements of skin-fold thickness. The results show that the children who received high-protein formula as infants had higher levels of body fat at the ages of 2 and 6 years than those whose early diet was less protein-rich. Consumption of the high-protein formula was found to double the chance that children would develop excess body fat by the age of 6. "Furthermore, half of those who were found to be carrying excess body fat at that age had a normal BMI," says Koletzko.

These findings suggest that it would be clinically more effective to use the Fat Mass Index (FMI) to identify children with excess fat than to focus on the BMI. And in order to avoid an early build-up of excess body fat, Koletzko and his colleagues recommend that children who are not breast-fed should receive that contains the same level of protein as human milk.

Explore further: Infant growth patterns affected by type of protein consumed

More information: Martina Totzauer et al. Effect of Lower Versus Higher Protein Content in Infant Formula Through the First Year on Body Composition from 1 to 6 Years: Follow-Up of a Randomized Clinical Trial, Obesity (2018). DOI: 10.1002/oby.22203

Related Stories

Infant growth patterns affected by type of protein consumed

May 14, 2018
A new study by CU School of Medicine researchers has determined that choices of protein intake from solid foods has a significant impact on infant growth during the first year of life.

The lasting legacy of early nutrition

October 17, 2016
In a long-term, collaborative, EU-funded project led by LMU's Berthold Koletzko, researchers have studied the lasting impact of early nutrition on health. A conference now underway in Munich highlights the latest results ...

Infants with strong sucking skills are more likely to gain additional weight

April 1, 2016
A new study of African-American infants finds that those who feed more vigorously at 1 month of age have higher weight at 4 months, which may be associated with a later risk for obesity. Researchers will present their study ...

High protein intake in early childhood is associated with higher body fat mass but not higher lean mass

May 20, 2017
New research presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Porto, Portugal (17-20) May shows that a high intake of protein in early childhood, particularly from animal food sources, is associated with a higher ...

Early nutrition has a long-term metabolic impact

May 2, 2011
Nutrition during the first days or weeks of life may have long-term consequences on health, potentially via a phenomenon known as the metabolic programming effect, according to a study to be presented Monday, May 2, at the ...

Recommended for you

Overweight pregnant women can safely cut calories, restrict weight gain

September 24, 2018
Being obese or overweight during pregnancy can result in serious health problems for the mother and child. Obstetricians are often reluctant to recommend restricted weight gain for pregnant women due to safety concerns for ...

Young children's oral bacteria may predict obesity

September 19, 2018
Weight gain trajectories in early childhood are related to the composition of oral bacteria of two-year-old children, suggesting that this understudied aspect of a child's microbiota—the collection of microorganisms, including ...

Rethinking an inflammatory receptor's obesity connection

September 12, 2018
Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) is a protein that plays a vital role in the body's immune response by sensing the presence of infection. It has long been thought to also sense particular types of fats, which suggested a mechanism ...

Rising European life expectancy undermined by obesity: WHO

September 12, 2018
Life expectancy in Europe continues to increase but obesity and the growing proportion of people who are overweight risks reversing this trend, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday.

Brief sleep intervention works long-term to prevent child obesity

September 6, 2018
When it comes to obesity prevention, sleep is not usually something that springs to mind, but a University of Otago research team has found we should not underestimate its importance.

Researchers develop more accurate measure of body fat

August 27, 2018
Cedars-Sinai investigators have developed a simpler and more accurate method of estimating body fat than the widely used body mass index, or BMI, with the goal of better understanding obesity.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.