Baby formula can change gut bacteria and overweight risk

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Breastfeeding for longer may change a baby's gut bacteria to protect them from becoming overweight, according to a Canadian child-health longitudinal study. The researchers found that babies who were only fed formula were a third more likely to be overweight compared with their breastfed peers. The formula-fed babies also had a much higher diversity of gut bacteria and this could be seen even in preemies that had only been fed formula when they were in hospital after birth. Some of the bacteria found only in formula-fed three-month-olds can contribute to the risk of becoming overweight, say the researchers.

Journal/conference: JAMA Pediatrics

DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1161

Organisation/s: Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, Canada

Funder: The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network of Centres of Excellence provided core funding for the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study.

Media Release

From: JAMA

Association of Exposure to Formula in the Hospital and Subsequent Infant Feeding Practices With Gut Microbiota and Risk of Overweight in the First Year of Life


IMPORTANCE The effect of neonatal and infant feeding practices on childhood obesity is unclear. The gut microbiome is strongly influenced by feeding practices and has been linked to obesity.

OBJECTIVE To characterize the association between breastfeeding, microbiota, and risk of overweight during infancy, accounting for the type and timing of supplementary feeding.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Feeding was reported by mothers and documented from hospital records. Fecal microbiota at 3 to 4 months (from 996 infants) and/or 12 months (from 821 infants) were characterized by 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. Infants with a weight for length exceeding the 85th percentile were considered to be at risk for overweight.

RESULTS There were 1087 infants in the study (507 girls and 580 boys); at 3 months, 579 of 1077 (53.8%) were exclusively breastfed according to maternal report. Infants who were exclusively formula fed at 3 months had an increased risk of overweight in covariate-adjusted models (53 of 159 [33.3%] vs 74 of 386 [19.2%].

This association was attenuated (adjusted odds ratio, 1.33; 95%CI, 0.79-2.24) after further adjustment for microbiota features characteristic of formula feeding at 3 to 4 months, including higher overall richness and enrichment of Lachnospiraceae. A total of 179 of 579 infants who were exclusively breastfed (30.9%) received formula as neonates; this brief supplementation was associated with lower relative abundance of Bifidobacteriaceae and higher relative abundance of Enterobacteriaceae at 3 to 4 months but did not influence the risk of overweight.

At 12 months, microbiota profiles differed significantly according to feeding practices at 6 months; among partially breastfed infants, formula supplementation was associated with a profile similar to that of nonbreastfed infants (higher diversity and enrichment of Bacteroidaceae), whereas the introduction of complementary foods without formula was associated with a profile more similar to that of exclusively breastfed infants (lower diversity and enrichment of Bifidobacteriaceae and Veillonellaceae).

Microbiota profiles at 3 months were more strongly associated with risk of overweight than were microbiota profiles at 12 months.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE Breastfeeding may be protective against overweight, and gut microbiota may contribute to this effect. Formula feeding appears to stimulate changes in microbiota that are associated with overweight, whereas other complementary foods do not.

Subtle microbiota differences emerge after brief exposure to formula in the hospital. These results identify important areas for future research and distinguish early infancy as a critical period when transient gut dysbiosis may lead to increased risk of overweight.


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