Can super-sizing start with baby bottles?

Baby bottles, isolated on white
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Claire McCarthy
Claire McCarthy

Claire McCarthy, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

For example, 20 years ago the average serving of French fries was 2.4 ounces and 210 calories; now it’s 6.9 oz and 610 calories. The average soda was 6.5 ounces and 85 calories; now it’s 20 ounces and 250 calories. Our standard portions of bagels, muffins, cookies, movie popcorn, sandwiches, hamburgers, and pasta have literally doubled. We are all about super-sizing everything.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that this super-sizing of servings and waistlines can start really early.

Baby bottles, isolated on white
Baby bottles, isolated on white

Researchers surveyed the families of almost 400 2-month-olds that were only fed formula. They found that about half of them used bottles that were less than 6 ounces to feed their babies, and half used bottles that were 6 ounces or more. When they checked in with those babies at 6 months, the babies who were fed from bigger bottles had gained more weight than those who were fed from the smaller bottles — and were overall a bit chubbier (their “weight-for-length” was higher).

We feel happy when our babies eat. We like it when they finish their bottles (and we tend to prepare full ones, not half-full ones). And we encourage them to keep drinking until they do. Interestingly, another study showed that babies fed breast milk from bottles gained more weight than those fed from the breast. When we can see there is more there, we are more likely to push babies to finish the bottle — and in doing so, make feeding less about hunger and more about, well, finishing. The average 2-month-old doesn’t need 6 ounces or more at a feeding, but will often take it if pushed to do so.

The problem is that overweight babies are more likely to grow into overweight children, who are more likely to grow into overweight adults. What our minds and bodies learn early about eating can stick for a lifetime.

I am not saying that everyone should start feeding their baby less. But I am saying that we need to be more mindful and aware of how, and how much, we feed our children. A 2013 study showed that when children were given kid-sized plates as opposed to adult-sized plates they served themselves less food and gained less weight, and this is the same idea. It’s all about giving babies (and children, and adults) the amount of food they actually need — and making sure they know when they are full, and know to stop when they are full.

If parents aren’t sure how much their child should be eating, they should check with their doctor. And they should remember that not all cries mean hunger; sometimes babies are tired, need a diaper change or just want to be held.

Let’s not let super-sizing start with babies.

(Reprinted here with permission from Harvard Gazette.)


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