Results of a European study to be presented at an international conference this week have revealed that a low intake of protein during infancy can reduce a child's risk of becoming obese by the time they go to school.
The paper "Lower protein content in infant formula reduces BMI and obesity risk at school age" is now published on-line on the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) and the print publication later this month and was presented at the international 'The Power of Programming' Conference at LMU in Munich 13-15 March 2014).
The research has been supported within the EC funded Early Nutrition project, taking forward the work undertaken in the EC supported Childhood Obesity Project (CHOP) and the EARNEST project which revealed that low protein content in infant formula reduces Body Mass Index (BMI) and obesity risk in later childhood. Early Nutrition is co-ordinated by Prof. Berthold Koletzko of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich (LMU).
Babies were initially enrolled in the study, which involved researchers from Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Poland, between October 2002 and July 2004. After their parents had made the decision to formula feed, the infants were 'randomized' to receive either a high or low content formula.
Early nutrition is recognised as a key factor in the effective prevention of childhood obesity. One of the best predictors of future obesity risk is weight gain during the first year of life, and protein intake is associated with more rapid weight gain during infancy.
In 2009, the CHOP study reported that the babies given a higher protein formula had gained more weight during their first year and were heavier at two years of age than those fed lower protein (published in AJCN, 2009).
These latest results involve the same cohort of children followed up to the age of six (of the 1090 babies enrolled, 518 (48%) have continued to participate in the study to school age). In the higher protein group, BMI was 0.51 kg/cm2 higher at six years of age and the risk of obesity was 2.43 times higher.
"Optimal infant nutrition is of major importance because it lays the foundation for future health," explains study author Martina Weber. "Our results demonstrate that protein intake through infant formula affects BMI and obesity risk at school age. Avoidance of infant foods that provide excessive protein intake and promoting breast feeding may therefore effectively contribute to the prevention of childhood obesity."