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Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1502S-1508S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27113D. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

Can infant feeding choices modulate later obesity risk?

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Dr von Hauner Children's Hospital, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):248. Monasterolo, Ricardo Closa [corrected to Closa, Ricardo]; Subias, Joaquín Escribano [corrected to Escribano, Joaquín].


Since the concept of lasting programming effects on disease risk in human adults by the action of hormones, metabolites, and neurotransmitters during sensitive periods of early development was proposed >3 decades ago, ample supporting evidence has evolved from epidemiologic and experimental studies and clinical trials. For example, numerous studies have reported programming effects of infant feeding choices on later obesity. Three meta-analyses of observational studies found that obesity risk at school age was reduced by 15-25% with early breastfeeding compared with formula feeding. We proposed that breastfeeding protects against later obesity by reducing the occurrence of high weight gain in infancy and that one causative factor is the lower protein content of human milk compared with most infant formula (the early protein hypothesis). We are testing this hypothesis in the European Childhood Obesity Project, a double-blind, randomized clinical trial that includes >1000 infants in 5 countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain). We randomly assigned healthy infants who were born at term to receive for the first year infant formula and follow-on formula with higher or lower protein contents, respectively. The follow-up data obtained at age 2 y indicate that feeding formula with reduced protein content normalizes early growth relative to a breastfed reference group and the new World Health Organization growth standard, which may furnish a significant long-term protection against later obesity. We conclude that infant feeding practice has a high potential for long-term health effects, and the results obtained should stimulate the review of recommendations and policies for infant formula composition.

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