Baby-led Weaning and Childhood Obesity
Baby-led weaning has long been an alternative approach to introducing babies to solid foods. But it’s also contentious.
Baby-led weaning is a method in which infants feeds themselves finger foods instead of being spoon-fed by an adult, with the assumption that they will self-regulate and eat exactly as much – or as little – as they need.
While some argue that allowing infants to feed themselves can help encourage healthy eating habits, others warn that it puts babies at risk of deficiencies, as there is no control over the amount of nutrients they consume.
One of the most widespread arguments in favor of baby-led weaning, however, has been the assertion that it helps to reduce childhood obesity levels. By letting babies self-regulate their food intake, advocates claim, babies are less likely to overeat than when they’re being spoon-fed by a parent.
But now research has found that unfortunately that assumption doesn’t seem to be true.
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand, looked at 200 mother/infant pairs, and divided them into two groups. One group fed their babies however they saw fit (usually purees), while the other group was told to, after six months of exclusive breastmilk or formula feeding, allow their babies to feed themselves, baby-led weaning style.
When the babies from both groups were two-years-old, researchers checked back and the results were both surprising and disappointing. While babies from both groups had similar BMI scores, more than 10% of the children from the baby-led weaning group were overweight by age two (compared with 6% from the other group). And one of the most significant predictors of being overweight as an adult is being overweight as a child.
So while there was no evidence that baby-led weaning helps to reduce obesity, the study does seem to support the idea that, left to their own devices and supplied with more than enough food, babies will overeat.