Two-year-olds who are still using bottles are more likely to be obese by kindergarten, a new study finds.
Researchers who studied 6,750 children found that toddlers who were still drinking from bottles at age two were one-third more likely than other kids to be obese at the age of five.
The researchers don't know whether long-term bottle-feeding is directly to blame, but they say their findings raise the possibility that weaning babies from the bottle around their first birthday could help prevent excessive weight gain.
From the bottle to toddler-friendly cups
Paediatricians already advise parents to wean children from the bottle to toddler-friendly cups when they are about 12 to 14 months old, or even earlier.
That, however, is largely because prolonged bottle-feeding, especially overnight, is thought to boost the risk of cavities. It may also contribute to iron deficiency.
The current findings, published in the Journal of Paediatrics, may offer parents added incentive to follow those recommendations, according to lead researcher Rachel A. Gooze, a doctoral candidate in public health at Temple University in Philadelphia.
And that incentive may be needed, she noted in an interview, since it seems that many two-year-olds are still using bottles.
Of the children Gooze and her colleagues studied, one in five was still using a bottle at the age of 24 months - either at night or all the time.
And of those long-term bottle users, roughly one in five was obese at the age of five, versus about one in six children who had been weaned earlier.
The researchers then looked at a number of factors that could affect a child's risk of obesity - including the mother's weight, family income and education, and whether the child had ever been breastfed.
They found that prolonged bottle-feeding, itself, was linked to a 33% increase in children's risk of obesity.
"The bottle may be providing a source of comfort, rather than meeting nutritional needs," Gooze said.
And the extra kilojoules could be substantial. As an example, Gooze noted that if an average-size two-year-old girl drinks an 8oz. bottle of whole milk at bedtime, that would meet 12% of her kilojoule needs for the day.
Prolonged bottle-feeding may also get in the way of toddlers having a varied, nutritious diet, according to Dr Marc S. Jacobson, a member of the American Academy of Paediatrics’ Obesity Leadership Workgroup.
Like Gooze, Dr Jacobson noted that the current study shows an association, and not necessarily cause-and-effect. But he said the findings do turn attention to the importance of early life in the risk of childhood obesity.
"A lot of the public discussion about the obesity epidemic has been about fast food, junk food and soda," Dr Jacobson said. "But there are also infant feeding issues associated with obesity." (Reuters Health)
Parents make kids fat