Researchers have identified a link between childhood obesity and excessive protein intake, most likely from too high levels of protein in formula milk during the first two years of life. The research studied around 1,500 infants, and investigated the effect of infant feeding on childhood body mass index (BMI) scores.
The effect of infant feeding on childhood body mass index scores was investigated—babies fed exclusively on breast milk, on high protein formula milk and on low protein formula milk. Six years later, the BMI of these children were compared, allowing researchers to draw conclusions on the link between infant feeding and childhood obesity.
The babies fed on high protein formula were found to have higher levels of fat at age six, and were more likely to suffer from childhood obesity. The amount of protein in formula is much higher than breastmilk.
The protein levels in breast milk change over time, allowing the milk to best meet the baby’s needs. Newborn babies need more protein than older babies. The protein levels in breast milk reduces by about a third by week four, and by the time the baby is 10 to 12 weeks old, the breast milk contains half as much protein as it did during the newborn stage. In formula milk, protein levels are fixed at a high level.
Milk formula designed for infants aged six to 12 months is of particular concern, as the content of protein is very high. Formula fed babies are between 12 to 14 percent more likely to develop childhood obesity than breastfed babies. It is now believed this is due to the high levels of protein present in formula milk.
The health risks of childhood obesity include Type 2 diabetes, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, cardiovascular risk factors and musculoskeletal problems.
At the Food Vision Asia summit in Singapore, Dr Jacques Bindels from Danone Nutricia said excessive protein consumption is jeopardizing the progress made in Asia Pacific around stunting and malnutrition. For example, Indonesia has both the highest rates of stunting and obesity which highlights the double burden.
Regulators in Asia are urged to take immediate action in reducing the amount of protein in milk formulas and not wait for new CODEX (its standards ensure that food is safe and can be traded) regulations for infant formula, which could take years to come into place. Milk formula manufacturers are advised to take a stand for responsible nutrition as the region battles against obesity and conditions related to metabolic diseases.