Updated 12 November 2013

Bottles make toddlers fat

Doctors recommend introducing sippy cups at six months and weaning toddlers off bottles completely by the time they're 15 months old.


Toddlers who continue to use bottles beyond 12 to 15 months of age tend to be overweight. But simply switching them to sippy cups may not prevent extra weight gain, a new study finds.

Doctors recommend introducing sippy cups at six months and weaning toddlers off bottles completely by the time they're 15 months old.

But 20% of two-year-olds and 10% of three-year-olds in the US continue to use bottles, often drinking five bottles of whole milk every day, researchers said.

"Bottles can become a vessel for extra, or 'stealth' calories, because they are often used indiscriminately. For example, while in a stroller, or to put a child to bed," Karen Bonuck told Reuters Health.

She led the new study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York."Before you know it, a child can take in 150 calories of whole milk in a bottle on top of their regular diet," Bonuck said.

Bottle-weaning programme

The researchers wanted to see if giving parents educational materials as part of a programme called 'Proud to Be Bottle Free' and a sippy cup would reduce the number of bottles kids used and the calories they consumed. They enrolled 300 pairs of parents and 12-month-olds at two Bronx Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) sites.

To be eligible for the study, children had to be consuming more than two bottles of milk or juice every day. The participants were randomly split into two groups: a bottle-weaning group that received the materials and sippy cup and a comparison group that did not. The research team checked in with parents over the next year to find out how many bottles kids were consuming every day, as well as what else they ate and drank. 

104 parent and child pairs completed the study. After three months, bottle usage had dropped from 4.6 bottles per day to two bottles per day among kids in the bottle-weaning programme. There was a smaller drop in the comparison group, from 4.4 bottles per day to 2.7, on average.

Sippy cup usage increased more in the bottle-weaning group. Kids in the bottle-weaning programme consumed slightly fewer calories – 1090 calories per day, on average, versus 1 186 among comparison children. But the difference was small enough that it could have been due to chance.

No effect upon overweight

The programme did not lower toddlers' chances of being overweight, according to results published in The Journal of Paediatrics. "At first we were surprised that there was no effect upon overweight status," Bonuck said, "but looking at the data more closely, this seems partially attributable to the substitution of sippy cups for bottles in the intervention group.

"She thought the programme's benefits might also have been clearer had fewer families left the study early. "Had we achieved our optimal sample size, and included messages about sippy cups, I would suspect this would have affected our overweight status outcomes," Bonuck said.

She said the advice to wean toddlers off bottles by 15 months should be extended to sippy cups. "They seem to just substitute for bottles well into the second and third years of life. In addition, we need to develop guidelines for liquid intake – including the proper balance of liquid versus solids during the second year of life," she said.

"Around one year of age, a child should be getting much of his/her nutrition through food," Angela Lemond told Reuters Health in an email. A dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, she was not involved in the new research.

Lemond said breast milk, toddler formulas, whole milk and four to six ounces of 100-percent juice each day are all good choices for toddlers. Beverages not on the recommended list for toddlers include low-fat milk or sweetened flavoured milks like chocolate or strawberry, sport drinks, soda and other caffeinated beverages.

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding – without any formula, other milk or solid food – until a baby is six months old, followed by breastfeeding with the addition of appropriate foods through age two.




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