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How do infant feeding practices influence gut microbiota and risk of overweight?

Overweight and obesity are important risk factors for type 2 diabetes, and they begin very early in life. The objective of this study was to compare the impact of formula versus solid foods later in infancy, brief formula exposure (“just one bottle”) in the hospital on infant weight gain and the microbes in their gut. Longitudinal data provided the opportunity to look at the relative importance of microbiota profiles in early and late infancy (3 and 12 months, respectively). 1087 infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort were studied. Feeding information was collected from hospital records and by maternal questionnaire, and body mass index was measured at 12 months. Gut microbiota were analyzed from fecal samples collected at 3 and 12 months. It was found that breastfeeding and supplementation with formula (more so than complementary foods) were associated with a dose-dependent increase in the risk of overweight by age 12 months; this association was partially explained by specific gut microbiota features at 3 (more so than 12) months. Subtle but significant microbiota differences were observed after brief exposure to formula limited to the birth hospital stay, but these differences were not associated with overweight. This study recruited more infants and collected more detailed feeding information, compared to previous studies of the infant gut microbiome. It is important for the general public to recognize that supporting breastfeeding could help prevent obesity, and when breastfeeding it is not possible, other strategies to “optimize” the infant microbiome could be helpful.

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ABC News - watch this for more information about this study

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