Associations of infant feeding with trajectories of body composition and growth

Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Aug;106(2):491-498. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.151126. Epub 2017 Jun 28.


Background: The extent to which breastfeeding is protective against later-life obesity is controversial. Little is known about differences in infant body composition between breastfed and formula-fed infants, which may reflect future obesity risk.Objective: We aimed to assess associations of infant feeding with trajectories of growth and body composition from birth to 7 mo in healthy infants.Design: We studied 276 participants from a previous study of maternal vitamin D supplementation during lactation. Mothers used monthly feeding diaries to report the extent of breastfeeding. We measured infants' anthropometrics and used dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry to assess body composition at 1, 4, and 7 mo. We compared changes in infant size (z scores for weight, length, and body mass index [BMI (in kg/m2)]) and body composition (fat and lean mass, body fat percentage) between predominantly breastfed and formula-fed infants, adjusting in linear regression for sex, gestational age, race/ethnicity, maternal BMI, study site, and socioeconomic status.Results: In this study, 214 infants (78%) were predominantly breastfed (median duration: 7 mo) and 62 were exclusively formula fed. Formula-fed infants had lower birth-weight z scores than breastfed infants (-0.22 ± 0.86 and 0.16 ± 0.88, respectively; P < 0.01) but gained more in weight and BMI through 7 mo of age (weight z score difference: 0.37; 95% CI: 0.04, 0.71; BMI z score difference: 0.35; 95% CI: 0, 0.69), with no difference in linear growth (z score difference: 0.05; 95% CI: -0.24, 0.34). Formula-fed infants gained more lean mass (difference: 303 g; 95% CI: 137, 469 g) than breastfed infants, but not fat mass (difference: -42 g; 95% CI: -299, 215 g).Conclusions: Formula-fed infants gained weight more rapidly and out of proportion to linear growth than did predominantly breastfed infants. These differences were attributable to greater accretion of lean mass, rather than fat mass. Any later obesity risk associated with infant feeding does not appear to be explained by differential adiposity gains in infancy.

Keywords: adiposity; body composition; breastfeeding; breastmilk; formula; growth; infant; obesity.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Fluid Compartments / metabolism
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Milk, Human*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Weight Gain*