Article at a Glance

  • Formula-fed babies are 2.5 times more likely to be obese as toddlers than babies who are breastfed.
  • Practices like putting your baby to bed with a bottle, encouraging your baby to finish the last bit of formula, and starting solids too soon can significantly increase the risk of obesity.

According to a recent study, important eating habits start developing as early as infancy. A study of more than 8,000 families by two Brigham Young University sociologists found that childhood obesity at the age of 2 was strongly tied to how children were fed as babies.

Infants who are primarily formula fed are 2.5 times more likely to be obese as toddlers than infants who were breastfed for the first six months of their lives. But according to the study it appeared that it wasn’t just breast milk that made the difference, but some of the habits that may be formed when bottle-feeding.

By learning to avoid these practices, parents can help children develop healthy eating patterns even when breastfeeding is not possible.

Stopping When Full: When bottle feeding it is tempting to encourage your baby to finish off the last bit of formula in the bottle so that it doesn’t go to waste. Parents may also hope that by drinking a little more their baby won’t need to eat again as soon. But it also develops a bad habit—it teaches babies to ignore their natural hunger signals. By teaching your baby to overeat, you are setting a trend for later in life. Learn to listen to your baby’s cues. If your baby pushes the bottle away or turns away from the bottle, then it is time to finish the feeding.

Eating Patterns: Sometimes parents put their babies to sleep with a bottle hoping that they will sleep through the night. But this habit can increase the risk that children will be obese as toddlers by 36 percent. According to Renata Forste, one of the study’s authors, “Developing this pattern of needing to eat before you go to sleep, those kinds of things discourage children from monitoring their own eating patterns so they can self-regulate.”

Starting Solids: Wait to introduce solids until your baby is over 4 months old. Children who start before then are 40 percent more likely to be obese when they are toddlers. Don’t add cereal or sweeteners to your baby’s formula.

Childhood obesity is a concern because it sets the stage for the later years. Toddlers who are obese are more likely to be obese as they grow up and into adulthood. They are also more likely to have problems with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and high cholesterol—health conditions traditionally only seen in adults.

By developing healthy eating habits early, parents can help their children avoid very real struggles later. And even though breastfeeding is preferred and carries with it many health benefits that can’t be replicated, it appears that mothers who are unable to breastfeed may still be able to capture some of the benefits by practicing good feeding habits and waiting to introduce solids.

Currently childhood obesity rates are higher in those who are below the poverty line and lower-income families are also more likely to formula feed. While more research is needed, the study seems to indicate that there is a correlation.

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Healthy Eating Habits Start From Infancy

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