Baby Bird

Learning to Feed Our Babies for Better Health

Much of the risk of obesity is set biologically very early in life or even at birth. Many efforts to prevent it seem like too little, too late. Could it be that simply learning to feed our babies for better health could have a meaningful impact, helping to prevent obesity in the next generation? An impressive randomized, controlled study just published in Obesity tells us that it can.

Emily Hohman and colleagues tested the effect of having nurses teach responsive feeding and other infant nutrition practices to mothers in home visits. A total of 219 pairs of mothers and infants participated. They were randomized to the responsive parenting (RP) visits or control visits that focused on child and food safety.

They found a significant effect on the mothers and infants adopting healthier feeding patterns at nine months of age. The RP visits led to much healthier dietary patterns – more variety, more fruits and vegetables, less sugary and energy-dense foods. The effect was especially large among infants fed with infant formula. Those healthier eating patterns linked to healthier BMI scores at two years. The authors explained:

Nonresponsive feeding practices, such as pressure to eat and restriction, have been linked to low FV (fruit and vegetable) intake and higher intake of high-ED foods (energy density), while RP practices such as parental modeling and covert control have been associated with greater FV intake and lower intake of high-ED foods. Our study adds to this literature by demonstrating that teaching RP may promote more healthful dietary patterns, particularly among formula-fed infants.

Babies don’t come with an instruction manual. Most parents just muddle through with the best, loving efforts they can muster. But these data suggest that learning to feed our babies for better health might help us change the trends in childhood obesity.

Click here for the study and here for more on responsive feeding.

Baby Bird, photograph © Ryan Keene / flickr

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December 27, 2016