Does Formula Cause Obesity?

does formula cause obesityBy Katherine M. Tomlinson

Here’s more proof that you should feed your baby breast milk rather than formula whenever possible: The latter may put your baby at risk for obesity and other life-threatening chronic diseases later in life.

Formula-fed babies may experience metabolic stress, or chemical imbalances that negatively affect the body’s conversion of food into energy, that breast milk-fed babies do not, according to a recent study published in the June 2013 American Chemical Society Journal of Proteome Research.

A UC Davis team analyzed infant rhesus monkeys, which are representative substitutes for humans in this area of research, to compare blood and urine samples of formula-fed and breast milk-fed individuals. The results revealed some important differences: In only four weeks the formula-fed monkeys were larger than their breast-fed counterparts and were metabolizing amino acids differently. The formula group also had higher blood levels of insulin, different ratios of immunity-developing good bacteria in the gut, and greater levels of chemical markers indicating risk for chronic adult disorders, including obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

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Does that mean feeding your baby formula causes obesity? “We’re not saying formula-fed babies will grow up with health issues, but these results indicate that choice of infant feeding may hold future consequences,” says the study’s lead author Carolyn Slupsky, PhD, B.Sc, a biochemist, nutritionist and associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology. “Our findings support the contention that infant feeding practice profoundly influences metabolism in developing infants and may be the link between early feeding and the development of metabolic disease later in life.”

Ironically, these findings might be good news for future parents who are forced to rely on formula for medical reasons. The formula-fed monkeys’ rapid growth may indicate an overconsumption of protein, which could provide clues for improving formula in the future to eliminate metabolic stress and break the link between formula and chronic disease.

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“Mother’s milk is an excellent source of nutrition that can’t be duplicated,” Slupsky says. “Knowing what we now know, perhaps infant formulas that better mimic the protective effects of breast milk can be generated.” To that end, Slupsky’s team plans to explore how compounds in breast milk differ from mother to mother and at different times during lactation, along with how varying nutrient contents in formulas affect infant metabolism.

In the meantime, remember that that food you choose for your baby may affect his health for the rest of his life—and breast milk is best. So keep your milk supply plentiful by nursing often and pumping a backup supply daily.

See more: How to Increase Your Milk Supply