Starting formula-fed babies on solid food too early may increase their risk of becoming obese by the time they reach age 3, according to a prospective study
The study, which followed more than 840 young children, found that formula-fed infants introduced to solid food before four months of age had a 6.3-fold increased odds of obesity at age 3, Dr. Susanna Y. Huh of Children's Hospital Boston and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics.
However, the same didn't hold for breastfed infants -- who showed no impact of timing of solid food introduction on obesity at age 3, Huh and co-authors wrote.
The findings from the longitudinal study support guidelines recommending holding off on solids until at least 4 months of age and preferably to six months of age, the researchers noted.
"Additionally, it further confirms the tremendous long-term nutritional value of breast feeding during the first six months of life," commented Dr. Cliff Nerwen of Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York City in a statement sent to reporters.
Increasing adherence to the guidelines might be one preventive strategy to reduce the rising incidence of childhood obesity, seen even among infants and pre-school age children, Huh's group suggested.
"One possible reason why we saw an association among formula-fed but not breastfed infants is that formula-fed infants may increase their energy intake when solids are introduced," they wrote in the paper.
"Breastfeeding may promote self-regulation of an infant's energy intake, and the mother may learn to recognize her infant's hunger and satiety cues," they explained.
The researchers followed 847 children in Project Viva, a prospective, longitudinal prebirth cohort study of mother-offspring pairs. The mothers were recruited between 1999 and 2002 at the obstetrical offices of a multispecialty group practice in eastern Massachusetts.
Six months after delivery, the mothers filled out a questionnaire detailing what type of food their baby ate and when solid foods -- including infant cereal, teething biscuits, and fruit -- were first introduced.