Dr. Susanna Huh, one of the study’s lead authors from Children’s Hospital Boston, said that the findings do support U.S. guidelines, which say parents should wait to start feeding their babies solid foods until they are between 4 and 6 months old.
The study found that for babies who were breastfed for at least four months, the age at which they first received solid food (anywhere from four to six months of age) did not matter—either way, they had a 1 in 14 chance of being obese at age three.
However, for formula-fed babies, as well as those who stopped breastfeeding before four months of age, the chance of being obese at 3 years was an astounding 25% if they started eating solids before the four month mark.
The probability of obesity went down dramatically to 1 in twenty if parents waited to give solid foods until the baby was 4-5 months old. If parents waited until the baby was more than six months old, the risk went back up. However, there were too few babies in this group for researchers to make a final conclusion about the obesity risk of starting babies on solid foods after six months of age.
Previous studies have shown conflicting results on whether the age at which babies start eating solid foods is related to their chance of being obese later in life or not. The transition to solid foods increases the amount of calories babies are consuming, and the real risk is that parents don’t usually know how much energy their baby really needs, which results in overfeeding.
“That’s exactly how (adults) get overweight,” said Dr. David McCormick, a pediatrician at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “They eat a little bit more than they should every day.”
The study shows that talking to parents about when to add solid foods to a baby’s diet is something that pediatricians should be doing on a regular basis, McCormick said. Giving solid foods too early, whether together with formula or separately, “is going to set your child up for obesity.”
And, he said, “We know from other (studies) that if you’re overweight or obese at 3, you’re very likely to stay overweight.”
When did you make the transition to solid foods with your baby?