Infants can’t verbally say when they are full, making it hard for parents to know when to stop feeding their baby.
BYU professors Renata Forste and Ben Gibbs found if parents pay attention to their children’s nonverbal cues, they can help decrease the chances of early childhood obesity.
“Obesity is a large issue right now,” Forste said. “We wanted to learn how far it goes back.”
For seven years, Forste and Gibbs studied 8,000 children nationwide, from birth to 5 years of age.
“If you are overweight at age 2, it puts you on a trajectory where you are likely to be overweight into middle childhood and adolescence and as an adult,” Forste said in a news release. “That’s a big concern.”
Forste and Gibbs discovered that children who are formula-fed are 2.5 times more likely to be obese than children who are breast-fed. In addition, children who start solid foods before six months are 40 percent more likely to be obese later in life, and those who are given a bottle in bed at night are 30 percent more likely to struggle with obesity.
Forste and Gibbs explained that children who are breast-fed are generally leaner and healthier than formula-fed babies because babies who are breast-fed stop drinking when they are full and parents aren’t measuring how many ounces they drink.
Parents who formula-feed often encourage their child to finish their bottle, even when the child resists. This sets children up to eat more than their bodies need at a young age and is part of the reason Gibbs and Forste encourage breast-feeding.
“Try to breast-feed as much as you can, it is worth it,” Gibbs said. “If you can’t, try to replicate it by listening to your child’s cues.”
Gibbs and Forste understand there are many mothers who can’t breast-feed, but if parents work closely with their doctors and pay attention to their child’s cues, they can replicate the breast-feeding process.
“Parents are the best experts to know needs of their children,” Gibbs said. “Studies like this give you an … average for most kids and helps (parents) make decisions.”
Gibbs and Forste remind parents the numbers from this study are averages and there are exceptions. “Not every chubby baby will grow up to be chubby and not every skinny baby will grow up to be lean,” Gibbs said.