Sept. 8, 2022 — Parents who give their babies lactose-reduced infant formula may be setting their children up for an increased risk of childhood obesity, a new research shows.
Researchers for a long time installed that babies who drink baby formula instead of breast milk already carry increased risk obesity. But a new study found a difference in the type of formula and obesity outcomes in children.
Infants under the age of 1 who were fed a lactose-reduced formula made in part from corn syrup solids had a 10% greater risk of obesity by age 2 than infants fed regular cow’s milk formula.
“That’s even more reason not to use low-lactose formulas,” says Mark R. Corkins, MD, chief of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee. “Parents think if babies are fussy or spit up they’re lactose intolerant, but when you look at the actual numbers, lactose intolerance in babies is rare.”
Corkins says that many parents come to him with complaints that their babies are fussy or spit up and believe that their children lactose intolerance.
“The reason low-lactose formulas are on the market is because parents want them and think their child is lactose intolerant, but they’re not,” Corkins says, adding that he usually tries connect these parents with lactation support services, such as peer-to-peer programs, that can facilitate the breastfeeding process.
Researchers from the Southern California WIC program and the University of Southern California analyzed data from more than 15,000 infants in Southern California. All were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a federal nutrition assistance program that provides healthy food and breastfeeding support to low-income pregnant women or new moms and their children up to age 5 .
Published in Art American Journal of Clinical Nutrition On August 23, records of infants born between September 2012 and March 2016 were divided into two groups: infants who stopped breastfeeding before 3 months and started on lactose-reduced formula, and infants who received all other forms of mixture. More than 80% of the children in both groups were Hispanic.
Infants fed lactose-reduced formula with corn syrup solids had an 8% greater risk of obesity by age 3 than infants fed regular cow’s milk formula, and a 7% greater risk by age 4.
Tara Williams, a pediatrician and breastfeeding specialist with the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the findings should make pediatricians, parents and others stop and think about what baby formula contains.
She explained that formula-fed babies have a higher risk of obesity than breastfed babies in general. But research into the effects of different types of formulas is relatively new. She said there could be several reasons for the link between the lactose-reduced, solid corn syrup formula and a higher risk of obesity.
“Adding corn syrup can potentially teach a child to like sweets,” Williams said, which in turn can lead to less healthy eating habits in childhood and adulthood.
Or it could be that parents who try to give their babies lactose-reduced formula are less tolerant of fussy babies and end up feeding their babies more, Williams suggests.
Although parents are free to choose what formula to feed their children, states play a large role in this choice. In 2018, 45% of infants in the United States were eligible WIC, which is funded through the federal government but administered by the states. State WIC programs solicit bids from formula manufacturers, and parents purchase selected products from retailers.
“Now that we’re starting to see a signal that maybe some formulas will have a potentially added risk of obesity for participants, states can say that when we’re helping mothers choose formulas, we need to be very clear about that added risk.” , says Christopher Anderson, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Public Health Enterprises WIC Foundation in California and lead author of the study.
Williams says more research is needed to do similar analyzes in other populations to draw cause-and-effect conclusions, while Corkins says he’d like to see more research on the amount of formula eaten and the link to types of formula.
“We know that once you sign up for Baby Registry at Target, you’ll receive formula samples in the mail; you’re being marketed very aggressively, it’s a $55 billion industry,” Williams said. “And their goal is to sell their product not to improve the health of children.
“This study will certainly make us stop and think about what we are feeding our children in the United States and how we allow companies to sell their products.”