Making children clear their plate after they’ve said they are full or feeding them when they’re not hungry can ‘programme kids’ to become obese as adults, a study claims.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina reviewed about 50 studies intro nutrition, psychology and interactions during feeding of babies.
Overfeeding babies is fuelling the child obesity epidemic as they develop an inability to control their appetite properly and lead to obesity, said lead author Eric Hodges.
The phenomenon can make them prone to piling on the pounds in adolescence or adulthood – increasing the risk of life threatening illnesses.
Three quarters of UK babies and toddlers are eating more calories than they should, studies suggest, tipping scales above their ideal weight on growth charts.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina reviewed about 50 studies intro nutrition, psychology and interactions during feeding of babies. Stock image
‘Feeding in the absence of hunger or beyond fullness may undermine infants’ self-regulation of energy intake,’ said Hodges.
This is happening in part because the baby is learning about eating through interactions with its parent and overfeeding teaches them to eat too much.
This tricks the vagus nerve that communicates hunger and fullness to the brain, Hodges explained, saying the mind is effectively ‘programmed’ to eat more.
‘This, in turn, could boost infants’ risk for subsequent obesity as they develop from complete dependence to increasing independence in eating,’ he said.
Experts know people who are overweight as children are more likely to be overweight as adults. But a link with diet in early infancy is less clear.
This is a sensitive developmental period that presents opportunities and challenges for parents, said Hodges.
So his team reviewed around 50 studies on nutrition, physiology, and psychology to examine evidence related to babies’ self-regulation of behaviour and emotion.
They also looked at interactions during feeding – including how those may derail their ability to regulate their intake of food.
Infants that were fed more than they needed developed a skewed perception of hunger and fullness, making them vulnerable to obesity and health problems.
‘The first two years of life are a critical time during which eventual independent eating behaviour and self-regulation of energy intake are shaped,’ Hodges said.
‘Healthy babies appear to have the ability to adjust their energy intake – that is, how much food they ingest – with their body’s physiologic need for growth and development.’
Parents’ feeding of infants affects self-regulation by impacting on the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain through the face and throat to the abdomen.
A model linking feeding responsiveness to obesity found infants are also responsible for the clarity of cues intended to communicate hunger and fullness.
These include temperament and inherited traits related to appetite such as perceived enjoyment of eating, responsiveness to fullness and pace of eating.
Overfeeding babies is fuelling the child obesity epidemic as they develop an inability to control their appetite properly and lead to obesity, said lead author Eric Hodges. Stock image
‘We know beginning in infancy, interactions with caregivers shape behavioural and physiological foundations of self-regulation,’ said Hodges.
‘But we don’t know as much about how these interactions influence self-regulation of feeding, eating and energy intake.
‘In our work, we examined how the relationship between caregivers and their infants during feeding may affect infants’ development, which has implications for the probability of subsequent preventable disease.’
Co author Dr Cathi Propper, a child development expert said this study brings a deeper understanding of the interplay between behaviour and hunger.
‘While much of the research on responsive feeding has focused on the caregiver’s effects on the infant, our model, which encompasses both caregiver and infant, suggests that the infant is evoking behavioural and physiologic responses in the caregiver and is responding to the caregiver’s behaviour and physiology, too.’
The research has been published in the journal Child Development Perspectives.
WHAT IS OBESITY?ADULTS WITH A BMI OVER 30 ARE SEEN AS OBESE
Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.
Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.
This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.
Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.
Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.
Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.
This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.
Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.
Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.
As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.