In developed countries obesity is becoming the number one health concern. Obesity starts young in life but scientists are now developing an infant milk formula that is designed to prevent obesity in later life. At the moment this research is in its infancy, but could milk formula really save your child from obesity in later life? And, more importantly, is it safe?
Everyone in the medical and scientific establishment agrees that breastfeeding is best for babies. Unlike, infant formula, breast milk is organic and contains many hormones, nutrients and antibodies that are beneficial to a developing baby. Studies have also suggested that babies who are exclusively breastfed are far less likely to be obese in later life.
But why do babies who are breastfed less likely to become fat in later life? Professor Mike Cawthorne of Buckingham University believes he knows the answer. Breastmilk contains a hormone called leptin whereas baby formula does not. He has carried out extensive studies on rats and his research shows that feeding leptin to baby rats stops them from becoming overweight as adults.
He states that: ‘The supplemented milks are simply adding back something that was originally present – breast milk contains leptin and formula feeds dont.
‘You would only take this for a short time, very early in life. We know that breastfed offspring have less of a tendency towards obesity in adult life.’
He goes on to say, ‘I’m not in the least suggesting that it will cure world-wide obesity, but it’s something that could make a difference.’
So, is adding leptin to baby formula the answer? Could infant formula fortified with leptin be as common as say, infant formula fortified with DHA and ARA, after all these are also found in breast milk?
Many scientists, health professionals and organisations are a little sceptical about whether leptin-enhanced infant formula would stop adult obesity and they are also concerned about the potential health risks.
They point out that the only way of proving this theory would be to carry out extensive field trials. Dr Nick Finer of the Wellcome Clinical Research Facility states that: ‘The concept that adding something to a food that could permanently alter brain development is exciting but at the same time so scary’. He asks the question, ‘Would the first trials be on newly-born children?’
Others also argue that leptin does not necessarily prevent obesity in later life; environmental factors such as food education by one’s parent have a more significant role in preventing obesity. Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of Weight Concern states: ‘To date, leptin has proved to be a great disappointment. Most of us have plenty and true deficiencies are rare. In fact, obese people tend to have it in higher-than-normal levels.’
Leptin being added to infant formula during its manufacture is a long way off and may never actually happen. Many seek quick fix solutions rather than take ownership of a problem. The chances are that if parents raise their children to appreciate food and to have a healthy respect for it and their bodies, they won’t suffer from obesity, and all the problems it brings, in later life.