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expert reaction to conference talk about high protein intake in early childhood and body fat mass, being presented at the european congress on obesity

At the European Conference on Obesity, scientists presented work on how the level of protein in early childhood diet is related to growth and body composition in later life. They reported that high protein intake was associated with higher body fat mass.


Dr Laura Pimpin, Data Analyst, UK Health Forum (formerly the National Heart Forum), said:

“This is a well designed child nutrition epidemiological prospective study, with a robust sample size.  Validated dietary and anthropometric measures were used which produced protein intake estimates which were very similar to those from our own previous research, which focussed on the complementary feeding stage (21 months).

“The added value of this study comes from the finding that early protein intake increases later childhood weight mainly through increased fat.  This strengthens the conclusions of previous work, and suggests that excessive protein may play a further role in later childhood poor health.”


Prof Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, University of Oxford, said:

“This study adds to the growing evidence that a high protein diet in early childhood is associated with an increased risk of obesity.  Diet was measured in more than 3500 children age 1 year and their growth measured to age 10 years with specific measures of body fat at 6 and 10 years.  The authors show that children with a high protein intake are bigger, and that this is specifically due to increased fat mass, indicative of a greater risk of obesity.  Our analysis from the Gemini twin study1 in the UK has shown similar effects, and also that protein intakes in young children are much higher than recommended2.

“While the risks associated with diets containing too much fat and sugar are increasingly recognised, it is becoming clear that protein, especially in early childhood is also a specific risk factor for later obesity.  New mothers receive extensive advice and support in relation to breast feeding but may need more help to manage the much more complex process of weaning their child onto a healthy diet.”

  1. ‘Dietary protein intake is associated with body mass index and weight up to 5 y of age in a prospective cohort of twins.’ Pimpin L, Jebb S, Johnson L, Wardle J, Ambrosini GL. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Feb; 103 (2): 389-97.
  1. Energy and nutrient intakes of young children in the UK: findings from the Gemini twin cohort.’ Syrad H, Llewellyn CH, van Jaarsveld CH, Johnson L, Jebb SA, Wardle J. Br J Nutr. 2016 May 28; 115 (10): 1843-50.


Dr Ian Johnson, Nutrition researcher and Emeritus Fellow, Quadram Institute Bioscience, said:

“This is very interesting work, conducted on a large number of infants in a prosperous western population, using robust methods, so we have to take it seriously.  It is much too early to decide whether there are important practical implications for infant feeding practice, but I do look forward to seeing the full paper and future work on this issue.”


Prof Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health, and Professor in Adolescent Health, UCL GOS Institute of Child Health, said:

“We know that the slow drip of day-to-day calorie intake excess results in the increased likelihood of childhood obesity.  This research is particularly interesting because it shows that having a high animal protein diet in early childhood doesn’t necessarily lead to stronger muscles and bones later on, providing yet more evidence of the importance of a balanced diet for children.  Furthermore, this study supports the long-held view that diets high in protein are unlikely to be effective for weight loss in children.”


* Abstract title = ‘Macronutrient composition of early childhood diet in relation to growth and body composition’ by T Voortman et al will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Porto, Portugal.  It is under embargo until 00:01 UK time on Saturday 20 May 2017.  There is no paper.


Declared interests

Dr Laura Pimpin: “The UKHF (formerly the National Heart Forum) is a charitable alliance of 70 national public and professional organisations – established mid-1980s with a focus on prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).  I have no conflicts of interest to declare.”

Prof Susan Jebb: “Prof Susan Jebb is employed by the University of Oxford and receives no personal funding from the food industry.  Susan Jebb is conducting research into the treatment of obesity, some of which include support from WeightWatchers, Slimming World and the Cambridge Weight Plan.  Susan was the independent Chair of the Public Health Responsibility Deal Food Network and was a science advisor to the Foresight obesity report.  From 2007-10 she was the principal investigator for a research study funded by the food industry to investigate the potential for a functional beverage to help weight loss. The results of this work have been published:”

Dr Ian Johnson: “No conflicts of interest.”

Prof Russell Viner: “No conflicts of interest.”


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