Giving formula and cow milk to babies as a substitute for breast milk can increase their risk of becoming obese later in life, according to experts. Formula-fed babies also are at risk of developing several chronic illnesses, like diabetes.

It is mainly due to the fat and carbohydrate content in formula and cow milk. Some of the formula and cow milk contain high levels of carbohydrate and fat. Babies who are given such milk may eventually develop obesity and other health problems in the later stage.

The best formula that can be given to a baby is the one that mimics breast milk, but the ingredients of formula and cow milk are different from that of breast milk, according to experts. That’s why mothers have previously been discouraged from giving formula and cow milk to babies as a substitute to breast milk.

While human breast milk is generally made up of “87% water, 3.8% fat, 1.0% protein, and 7% lactose”, formula milk is a combination of water, carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, according to a 2016 study titled Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant Formula.

The researchers of the study stated that breast milk is rich in antibodies, which provide an adaptive immunity in the intestinal tract of the newborn. According to them, it is “the best nutrition for infant growth and development”.

“In preterm or low birth weight newborns, a mother’s own milk is the first choice for preterm infants; when it is unavailable, donor breast milk is considered as the next best choice. For healthy newborns whose mothers are unable to provide sufficient breast milk, the current option of choice is infant formula,” the academics added.

However, Jane Wanjiku, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, said instead of giving formula and cow milk to babies, parents must try to feed fruits and vegetables to their little ones to make them feel full in the absence of mother’s milk.

Meanwhile, Rosslyn Ngugi, a lecturer at Mount Kenya University, is of the opinion that extra fat found in formula and cow milk can be a causing agent of diabetes. She said the excess fat could lead to an increase in the fat cells or an increase in deposit of fats in a person’s existing body cells.

This excess fat makse it hard for the body to absorb insulin. As a result, there is an evident reduction in insulin. Ngugi said the situation can be corrected through synthetic insulin or with proper food portion.

“In this case, parents end up feeding their children more food in order to boost their blood sugar and it is such overfeeding that also make the children have obesity,” the lecturer said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that formula-fed infants have higher level of energy metabolism, energy and protein as compared with the babies who are breastfed.

“Differences in release of insulin and other pancreatic and gut hormones have also been observed between breastfed and formula-fed infants, with formula feeding leading to higher plasma levels of insulin which in turn would stimulate fat deposition and early development of adipocytes, the cells that store fat,” WHO stated.

Many of the chronic illnesses, like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other illnesses that were seen in the older generation, are currently being diagnosed in children. Most of these kids were given formula milk in infancy.

Formula Milk Formula, cow milk can increase risk of obesity and diabetes in children Photo: Pixabay