Formula and Obesity in Children

smiling toddler holding red balloon

Getting Behind the Truth on How Infant Formula May Cause Obesity

It is difficult to pick up a newspaper or magazine today without reading about the increasing numbers of both children and adults who are suffering health problems as a result of obesity. Speculation is that the climbing rates of obesity, especially in the United States, is largely due to a lack of physical exercise and the availability of junk food.

A possible additional factor in the incidence of obesity that is seldom mentioned is the use of infant formula instead of breastmilk. Could feeding our babies infant formula be an even more significant factor in obesity than what we now believe?

Research does, in fact, point to the increase in obesity among babies who are fed formula. There is a tendency for parents to control the amount of food the baby is getting. In contrast, breastfed babies end their own feedings when they are satisfied. Parents who see even the smallest amount left in the bottle will nearly always encourage the baby to finish the formula that is left.

Given that formula is so expensive, this is a very real possibility today. A good estimate is that formula will cost parents on average about $3-4 per day. At those prices, parents do not want to waste a drop. So they will try to encourage the baby to finish what is left and possibly force the baby to eat beyond what is satisfying to him/her. This can lead to over-feeding the baby, which in turn increases the baby’s development of fat cells and eventually making obesity more likely.

Another reason that infant formula may contribute to obesity is due to the added sugar in some of the newer brands of formula such as Similac Organic. Pediatricians believe that feeding sweetened formula can cause a baby to overeat, possibly leading to obesity.

Experts suggest that unlike infant formula, breastmilk may contain growth factors that inhibit body fat. This may be one reason why breastfed babies have about a 30% reduction in the incidence of childhood obesity. Additional evidence indicates that breastfeeding reduces the incidence of obesity later into the teen years by 20%.

Unfortunately we do not have hard evidence that infant formula is a significant factor in the climbing rates of obesity today. However, feeding our babies formula likely plays a role.

We need to do all we can as parents, especially new mothers, to start our children out right in every way possible. Breastfeeding our children is one of the best ways to provide the best nutrients that our children deserve and to protect our children from the multiple health issues resulting from using infant formula.