Breast milk trumps formula feed any day: Experts

High protein intake during infancy could lead to obesity and other disorders, claims study.

Bengaluru: With more than 15 million children estimated to be overweight in urban India, obesity is becoming a growing concern among policymakers and health experts. New parents, who resort to giving their infants high protein foods that promise faster growth and stronger bones, unknowingly contribute to their obesity in later years, say experts.

“Most mothers are looking for the best food products for their babies and opt for those with high protein content which promise growth, without any medical advice,” says Dr Radhakrishna Hegde, senior paediatric consultant, Apollo Hospital Bannerghatta Road, pointing out that the products do not come with warning signs either.

Various studies across the globe have suggested that high protein intake in early infancy could lead to a higher number of fat cells in the child as it grows, leading to obesity and other disorders.

“Of late there has been a lot of research on the adverse effects of high protein intake in infants. Some studies suggest that excess protein intake during this time can lead to obesity in later years. A high protein intake at infancy is linked with a higher number of fat cells in the child as it grows and increases the release of insulin and IGF-1 (a hormone produced mainly by the liver that behaves in a way similar to insulin). This leads to increased weight gain and obesity which is then accompanied by a range of health issues such as diabetes, and heart disease,” explains Dr Bhaskar Shenoy, consultant paediatrician and head, Department of Pediatrics, Manipal Hospital.

Formula feed ,which is high in protein, is particularly harmful, according to experts. On the other hand breast milk’s protein content, although low, appears to match the growth requirements of babies. Moreover, breast milk’s composition is dynamic and changes in response to feeding and during lactation, supporting the changing growth and developmental needs of the baby. This does not happen with formula, they explain.

“Formula feeds that are available are nowhere close to breastmilk, when it comes to meeting a baby’s requirements. The amount of protein in formula feed is almost double and produces obesity which in turn is a marker for early onset of disorders like cardiac disease, hypertension, cancer and joint problems,” says Dr Hegde.

Obesity is accompanied by a range of health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Alarmingly, it now affects not only adults, but also an increasing number of children. Obesity which is increasing in both the developed and developing world, puts enormous pressure on health professionals as well as federal health budgets.

For children in the 1 to 3 age group, the total protein intake should not be more than five to 20 per cent of their daily calories intake, says Dr Radhakrishna Hegde, Senior Paediatric Consultant, Apollo Hospital Bannerghatta Road.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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