Recipe for a healthy start

Research team to study effects of infant diet composition

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11:32 a.m., May 3, 2012--Diet plays a large role in health throughout life, and its effects begin in infancy. 

“Rapid rates of growth during the first year of life increase risks for later obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease,” says Jillian Trabulsi, assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition at the University of Delaware.

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Trabulsi is part of a team that recently received a $2 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the impact of diet composition during infancy on energy balance, satiety and growth. Her collaborators on the project are Julie Mennella from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Dr. Virginia Stallings from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Dale Schoeller from the University of Wisconsin.

“Diet composition and subsequent growth during infancy affect later-life health outcomes,” Trabulsi says. “Research has shown that infants who are formula fed tend to weigh more and have a greater risk for later obesity than do infants who are breastfed.  While breast milk is considered the ‘gold standard’ for infant nutrition, more than 60 percent of American babies receive some infant formula by four months of age.

“However,” she adds, “it was recently discovered that one type of infant formula normalized the weight gain of formula-fed infants relative to that of breastfed babies during the first year of life.”

This finding is good news in that it sets the stage for re-evaluating the composition of infant formula and reducing the risk of obesity in infants who receive formula. The research team plans to conduct a randomized trial to evaluate the effect of infant diet composition on a number of factors, including growth, energy intake and expenditure, energy loss in stool, and biomarkers of satiation and satiety.   

“We have strong evidence that early life should be the focus for both preventive intervention and further scientific inquiry into body weight control,” Trabulsi says.  “Our hope is that this research will lead to interventions that result in a healthier first year and set the stage for a healthier life.”

About the research team

Jillian Trabulsi is assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health & Nutrition at the University of Delaware.  Her research interests include nutrition and growth in healthy children and in children with chronic disease, measurement of total energy expenditure and energy intake, diet assessment, pediatric obesity, and nutrition and growth in infancy.

Julie Menella is a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, the world’s only independent, nonprofit scientific institute dedicated to basic research on taste and smell. Her research program focuses on the development of food and flavor preferences in humans and the effects of alcohol and tobacco on women’s health and infant development.

Dale Schoeller is a faculty member in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on energy metabolism and human obesity, body composition and stable isotope techniques for macronutrient metabolism.

Virginia Stallings is director of the Nutrition Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Article by Diane Kukich

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