While researchers have highlighted the importance of infants’ diets, a new study is exploring how the switch to solid food earlier in life can affect infants’ health throughout childhood.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health found that when infants are introduced to solid foods earlier than the three-month mark, they experience changes in their gut bacteria that has been linked with an increased risk of obesity.
“How the early introduction of solid foods would cause the later development of obesity has been unknown, but our findings suggest that disruptions to gut bacteria may be one explanation,” said researcher Noel Mueller, PhD.
The effects of solid food
The researchers followed nearly 70 infants for the study, evaluating their stool samples at various intervals and also tracking when their caregivers introduced them to solid foods.
The study revealed that giving infants solid foods either at three months or earlier was associated with several changes to gut bacteria. The primary takeaway was that infants given solid food earlier than recommended were more likely to have more diverse gut bacteria.
They explained that these differences in gut bacteria, especially when the changes occur so suddenly, have been linked with metabolic issues, and it could put infants at a higher risk for childhood obesity. The diversity in gut bacteria was also linked to an increase of other molecules that are associated with a higher risk of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Health care professionals recommend that infants stay on breast milk or formula for the first four to six months, at which point solid food can be safely introduced. Moving forward, the researchers plan to do more work in this area to better understand how the digestive changes infants are experiencing with solid food affect their health into childhood.