NHS: No, spoon-feeding doesn’t make babies fatter! Weaning babies, making sure that they eat nutritious food and teaching them good eating habits are demanding tasks that can turn a mealtime into a battle of wills and even the most placid mother into an anxious wreck.
That’s why recent news that “spoon-feeding makes babies fatter,” first reported by BBC, was quickly picked up by hundreds of other news sites.
But the news simply isn’t true, says the British national health services provider.
In an article on its website, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service lambasted, not just the news coverage, but the study itself.
According to the news, University of Nottingham researchers found, in a new study, that babies weaned on pureed food tend to end up fatter than infants whose first tastes are finger foods.
By contrast, babies allowed to feed themselves finger food in a “baby-led approach to weaning,” learned how to regulate their food intake in a way that led to healthier weight and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates.”
But the NHS challenged the study’s conclusions, saying, “the research behind the coverage is not strong enough to support such claims.” It also pointed out that a number of shortcomings undermined the research.
The study avidly cited by BBC and other news sites compared information gathered on the diet and body mass index (BMI) of 92 babies weaned on finger foods — dubbed “baby-led” weaning by researchers — and 63 babies weaned using spoon-feeding. Funded by the University of Nottingham, the study’s findings were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ Open.
“Overall, the study does not support the various claims in the media that spoon-feeding makes babies fatter or encourages a sweet tooth, or that ‘baby-led weaning’ makes babies healthier,” the NHS say. It also lamented that “the study was reported uncritically in most papers, with quotes from independent experts who reportedly supported its findings.”
“It’s possible, for example, that a child’s food preferences might influence how they end up being weaned,” the NHS points out. Or, that the results are due to chance.
The Nottingham University researchers did a small cross-sectional study examining the association between weaning method, food preferences and frequency of food consumption. They compared two groups of parents who used different weaning methods for their babies and then looked at their children’s food preferences and BMI.
The NHS also pointed out the following shortcomings of the research:
• The small number of study participants (just 155 babies studied)
• The fact that most babies in each group had normal weight
• The fact that the study looked at eating habits at a single point in time, rather than recording them over time
The study only makes associations, but “can’t prove cause and effect, nor can it show that baby-led weaning results in healthier food choices and healthier weight,” the national health provider said.
According to the NHS, finding out if baby-led weaning led to healthier food choices and healthier weight—and by contrast, if spoon-feeding babies led to less healthy choices that made them fatter—would require a larger study done over a longer period.
“Examining the issue will require larger studies which look at children’s eating and weight over time,” it observed.