What does baby formula have to do with childhood obesity?

Posted 2.24.11 | Christine Graham-Garo

Childhood obesity is one of the most challenging problems facing pediatricians today. About 10% of children younger than 2 years and 21% of children between 2 and 5 years are overweight.1 Young children with excess weight are at an increased risk of being overweight in the future.2 One interesting study that just came out in the Journal of Pediatrics (Dec 2010) compared the weights of infants who were fed cows’ milk formula versus those fed hydrolyzed formulas in which the milk proteins are partially broken down. Interestingly, the study results sound that the infants who were fed the cow’s milk formula gained more weight than the infants fed hydrolyzed formulas.

This finding is similar to another study that found that infants fed a cow’s milk formula gained more weight versus infants who were breastfed. They did note that the hydrolysate-fed infants consumed less formula to satiation than the cows milk formula group. No difference was seen in the length of the infants.

This finding was surprising to researchers, especially when more and more children are becoming overweight. Researchers are still unsure what would cause this difference, but one hypothesis points to the form of the proteins, which are whole in regular cow’s milk formulas, but partially broken down in hydrolysate formulas. One study notes that free amino acids stimulate sensory receptors in the oral cavity and /or gastrointestinal tract.3 In addition, previous research has shown that partially broken down protein chains stimulate a cascade of satiation signals, interestingly. Basically, the infants may have felt full sooner with the hydrolysate formula vs. with the cow’s milk formula.

More research needs to be done on this of course, but this does raise questions in regards to amino acid-based formulas. Will infants who are fed formulas such as Neocate have better weight profiles vs. infants fed milk-based formulas? We will keep our eyes peeled for more research and data on this!


  1. Ogden CL, et al Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007-2008. JAMA. 2010;303(3):242-249.
  2. Baird J, et al. Being big or growing fast; systemic review of size and growth in infancy and later obesity. BMJ. 2005;331(7522):929.
  3. San Gabriel A, et al. mGluR1 in the fundic glands of rat stomach. FEBS Lett. 2007:581(6):1119-1123.

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.