Childhood Obesity — a Point for the Crackpots

Scurvy, in his hammock

Relative to this news item, here is part of a letter from an anonymous reader of Childhood Obesity News:

I heard that giving a baby solid food too soon could cause lifelong problems with digestion, and intended to keep my daughter on a bottle for a few months. But when she was only 6 weeks old, I had to go to work and left her with a neighbor during the days. When I found out the neighbor was feeding her cereal I cried. The woman said, ‘But she seemed hungry.’

The worst part was, my daughter was born a month premature, so it wasn’t even like she was already a month and a half. In her formation, she was only 2 weeks old when this neighbor went against my plan for her. What if I had a baby boy and someone circumcised him without asking me first? Emotionally, it was just like that. Someone else made a permanent irreversible decision that should have been mine. Growing up my daughter always struggled with weight.

If that mom received the “lifelong problems with digestion” warning from a doctor, the medical establishment of the time probably considered him or her to be a crackpot. But Dr. Mulchand Patel of the University of Buffalo has spent over 20 years looking for proof that feeding a baby carbohydrate-enriched calories too soon can indeed have far-reaching negative effects. His work with animal subjects seems to indicate that the body can be indelibly programmed to overeat.

Dr. Patel is a Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and associate dean for research and biomedical education in New York State’s university system, and this is how he explains the findings of his latest research, which was published by the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism:

Many American baby foods and juices are high in carbohydrates, mainly simple sugars. Our hypothesis has been that the introduction of baby foods too early in life increases carbohydrate intake, thereby boosting insulin secretion and causing metabolic programming that in turn, predisposes the child to obesity later in life… This is the first time that we have shown in our rat model of obesity that there is a resistance to the reversal of this programming effect in adult life.

The team fed a high-carbohydrate milk formula to baby rats, or “pups,” next to a control group of pups fed normally by their mothers. At the age of three weeks, everybody’s diet was switched to rat chow. If the high-carb babies were given limited food, their weight would stay the same as control group babies. But if they were allowed to feed ad lib, at will, they went off the rails and pigged out and got fat.

Apparently, that initial introduction of high-carb milk actually modifies the development of the baby rats’ organs. As Dr. Patel explains it, they were metabolically programmed to develop the condition called hyperinsulinemia, which is a precursor of both obesity and Type 2 diabetes. He believes the appetite-regulating function of the hypothalamus is permanently impaired, and the result in humans is, when someone goes on a diet, the “program” that drives the urge to overeat is only suppressed temporarily, but can never be reset to what nature intended. Dr. Patel says:

We found that a period of moderate caloric restriction later in life cannot reverse this programming effect… As long as you restrict intake, you can maintain normal body weight.

So, basically, it’s the same old advice. Eat a reasonable amount, and don’t overeat. Yes, we know. But what about cravings? What about irresistible urges? That part about “restricting intake” is always the stumbling block. You might as well tell a cokehead to restrict the intake of white dust. Excellent advice! To find out why it doesn’t work, please consult Dr. Pretlow’s presentation from the 2013 European Congress on Obesity.

But for many of us reading this, and for our children and grandkids if we have them, the die is already cast. Some well-meaning relative or neighbor said, “What, your baby is still only on the bottle? I bet he’s just hungry. Let’s give him some real food,” and irreversible damage was done. If Dr. Patel is right, this is a massive tragedy, and it’s important to get this message out to all medical professionals who deal with expectant moms and newborns.

For millions of people, it’s already too late. All we are left with is a lifetime of coping with the pretty much futile effort to “restrict intake.” The article’s author adds:

To avoid metabolic reprogramming that predisposes a baby to obesity later in life, [Dr. Patel] says that parents should follow the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines, which state that solid foods should not be given before a baby is 4-6 months old.

Chalk up — sadly — a point for the crackpots.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Early Consumption of Carbs Heightens Obesity Risk,” LaboratoryEquipment.com, 03/20/13
Image by Chris.

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