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Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Mar;71(3):822-8.

Randomized diet in the neonatal period and growth performance until 7.5-8 y of age in preterm children.

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MRC Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, Institute of Child Health, London.



Preterm children are at high risk of poor growth performance. In 2 randomized trials, preterm infants fed preterm formula grew better in the neonatal period than those fed banked donor breast milk or standard term formula.


Our objective was to test the hypothesis that for preterm infants, the neonatal period is a critical one for programming growth performance and that early diet influences long-term growth.


A total of 926 preterm infants were recruited into 2 parallel, randomized trials of neonatal diet. In trial 1, infants were fed either banked donor breast milk or preterm formula whereas in trial 2, infants were fed either standard term formula or preterm formula. Within each trial, the allocated milk was the sole diet for some infants (study A), whereas for others it was a supplement to maternal breast milk, given when not enough expressed breast milk was available (study B). We followed up 781 of 833 survivors (94%) to age 7.5-8 y. Trained assessors obtained anthropometric measurements according to a standard protocol.


Despite significantly better neonatal growth performance in infants fed preterm formula (compared with either banked donor breast milk or standard formula), early diet had no influence on weight, height, head circumference, or skinfold thicknesses at 9 or 18 mo postterm or at age 7.5-8 y.


These findings suggest that the preterm period is not a critical window for nutritional programming of growth, which contrasts with evidence from these trials showing that early diet influences later neurodevelopment.

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