Current guidelines on infant feeding, recipes for overfed, overweight infants – John Hopkins researchers

Researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have revealed that, following the current guidelines on infant feeding in the standard amounts recommended, could produce overweight, overfed infants.

In a computer simulation study, published July 25 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, it was found that the current advice in four feeding guides, if adhered to from age 6 to 12 months, could lead to overfeeding, thus producing overweight infants.

The solid feeding guides are usually produced by infant formula makers, experts in paediatric health and nutrition and large children’s hospital.

The guidelines prescribe that, children after being exclusively breastfed for 6 months, should be introduced to solid foods in certain recommended amounts.

One of the major challenges often faced by caregivers is how to introduce complementary feedings to their children. Thus, various experts have put together guidelines that could help caregivers on how best to introduce solid foods, after exclusive breastfeeding.

In the study, a computer-simulation system was used to test the impact of the current feeding guidelines on infants 6-12 months of age. The study measured the rate of metabolism of the infants and their activity levels and also documented the body size and other parameters, tracking daily activities of the virtual infants.

The Virtual Infant computer-simulation model used for the study was developed by a group, led by senior author, Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health and Executive Director of the Global Obesity Prevention Centre.

The study found that when virtual caregivers fed the infants according to the four recommended guides, none of them resulted in normal weight at 1 year of age.

The virtual infant feeding, which followed the recommended guidelines, pushed the Body Mass Index [BMI] of the infants above the 85th percentile into the overweight category.

This result was also true even when the solid food portion was reduced to the lowest 25th percentile of the recommended feeding amounts for the infants.

The researchers wrote about their findings:

“Reducing breast milk portions in half while caregivers fed infants according to complementary feeding guidelines resulted in overweight BMIs between 9 and 11 months for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Enfamil guidelines. Cutting breast milk portions in half also led to infants reaching unhealthy underweight BMI percentiles between 7 and 11 months for female and male infants when caregivers followed Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Similac guidelines.”

It is important to note that conducting such a study on real life infants would be complex, as the researchers noted, considering the ethical issues that would be involved in overfeeding and underfeeding infants – and so the simulation study.

So, the study concluded:

“This study shows that existing complementary feeding guidelines have a high likelihood of resulting in overfeeding within the first year of life. Feeding experts and pediatricians should focus on providing tighter complementary feeding guidelines to caregivers, particularly in the later months of the first year of life. In addition, expert organizations and governing bodies could develop guidelines on how to adjust complementary feeding portion sizes and food types when the primary feeding method (i.e., breast milk or formula) diverges from recommendations around duration, intensity, or form.”

Conclusions from the computer simulated-study on the impact of solid feeding guides on BMI in infants.

You can read more on the study from American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona is a medical doctor by training and a writer by passion. Samuel holds a postgraduate degree in Public Health. He believes that communicating medical knowledge goes beyond writing technical reviews. Samuel thus uses his expertise in public health and health systems research to transmit technical information for both academic and general audience. Please email to contact this author directly or use the contact page and your information will be passed on to him.