Appetite-regulating hormones in early life and relationships with type of feeding and body composition in healthy term infants

Eur J Nutr. 2017 Jun;56(4):1725-1732. doi: 10.1007/s00394-016-1219-8. Epub 2016 May 11.


Introduction: Body composition in early life influences development of obesity during childhood and beyond. Appetite-regulating hormones (ARH) play a role in regulation of food intake and might thus influence body composition in later life. Studies on associations between ARH and body composition in early life are limited.

Methods: In 197 healthy term infants, we measured serum fasting levels of ghrelin, leptin, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP), pancreatic polypeptide (PP) and peptide YY (PYY) at 3 months and in 41 infants also at 6 months and their associations with type of feeding and longitudinal fat mass percentage (FM%) measured by air displacement plethysmography at 1, 3 and 6 months and abdominal visceral and subcutaneous fat, measured by ultrasound, at 3 and 6 months.

Results: Infants with formula feeding for 3 months had significantly higher serum levels of ghrelin, leptin, insulin, GIP and PP (p = 0.026, p = 0.018, p = 0.002, p < 0.001, resp.) and lower serum levels of PYY (p = 0.002) at 3 months than breastfed infants. Leptin and ghrelin correlated positively with FM% at 3 months and insulin with change in FM% between 1 and 3 months (r = 0.40, p < 0.001, r = 0.23, p < 0.05, r = 0.22, p < 0.01, resp.). Leptin at 3 months correlated with subcutaneous fat at 3 months (r = 0.23, p < 0.001), but not with visceral fat. Other ARH did not correlate with body composition.

Conclusion: Formula-fed infants had a different profile of ARH than breastfed infants, suggesting that lower levels of ghrelin, leptin and insulin in breastfed infants contribute to the protective role of breastfeeding against obesity development. Leptin, ghrelin and insulin were associated with fat mass percentage or its changes.

Keywords: Appetite-regulating hormones; Body composition; Breastfed; Early life; Formula fed.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry
  • Body Composition*
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Gastric Inhibitory Polypeptide / blood
  • Ghrelin / blood*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula
  • Insulin / blood
  • Leptin / blood
  • Male
  • Pancreatic Polypeptide / blood
  • Pediatric Obesity / blood
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Peptide YY / blood


  • Ghrelin
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Peptide YY
  • Gastric Inhibitory Polypeptide
  • Pancreatic Polypeptide