Follow-on formula with protein levels closer to that of breast milk may offer “high risk” infants additional protection from obesity later in life, a Nestlé-backed study has claimed.
The study, Low-Protein Formula Slows Weight Gain Among Infants of Overweight Mothers, examined whether a whey-based infant formula with lower energy and protein content would slow the growth of infants with overweight mothers.
According to the study, which was among three presented at the May 2013 Nestlé Nutrition Institute symposium, Shaping a Healthy Future in the First Thousand Days, maternal obesity is associated with higher birth weight, more rapid growth in infancy and an increased risk of overweight or obesity later in life.
Breast milk provides less protein than standard infant formula products and "seems to protect from childhood obesity."
The researchers - from the Nestlé Nutrition Institute, Nestlé’s research arm, Nestec Ltd, the Universidad de le Frontera in Chile, and the University of Iowa - found, however, that infants born to overweight and obese mothers have slower weight gain when receiving a low protein infant formula between three and 12 months of age.
According to Switzerland-based Nestlé, it can be speculated on the back of the study that slower growth earlier in life has a “metabolic programming effect” and may reduce the risk of obesity later in life.
The study involved healthy infants of overweight mothers with a pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) in excess of 25. These subject mothers elected to exclusively formula feed or breast feed their babies.
Formula-fed infants participated in a “double-blind” randomised trial from the age of three months and were assigned to either an experimental formula (EXPL) or a standard formula (CTRL).
The EXPL infant formula contained 1.65g of protein per 100 calories, 628 calories per litre and was supplemented with Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotics. The CTRL infant formula contained 2.63g of protein per 100 calories, 656 calories per litre, and was not supplemented with probiotics. These formulas were fed up to the age 12 months.
Exclusively breastfed infants were also studied as a reference group.
The researchers found that the weight gained among those infants fed the EXPL formula was “significantly lower” than those fed the CTRL formula “at any interval between three and 12 months.” Body mass index (BMI) was also lower in the EXPL group.
“Maternal obesity is associated with higher birth weight, more rapid growth in infancy and increased risk of overweight later in life. Breast milk provides less protein than formulas and breastfeeding seems to protect from childhood obesity,” said the study.
“This study for the first time demonstrates that in infants of overweight mothers a low-protein formula results in slower weight gain and lower BMI z-scores until 24 months than a standard formula."