Children who still drink from a bottle at 24 months of age are more likely to be obese at the age of 5.5 years. An analysis of data from 6,750 children enrolled in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort showed that 22% were prolonged bottle users at 24 months, meaning that they either drank primarily from bottles, were put to bed with a bottle, or both. Nearly 23% of these children were obese by age 5.5 years, compared with 16% of those who stopped using the bottle at a younger age. Prolonged bottle use raised the risk of obesity by 33%, even after adjustment for other factors that contribute to obesity, such as mother's weight, child's birth weight, and feeding practices during infancy (although the children's diets and activity levels weren't known).
Beverages drunk from bottles can be packed with calories that lead to weight gain. For instance, 8 oz. of whole milk has about 150 calories. For an average- weight two-year-old girl (about 26 pounds), this would account for 12% of her daily caloric needs. Milk or sugary drinks in nighttime bottles can also cause tooth decay and may cause iron deficiency.
"Health professionals have encouraged weaning around the child's first birthday to prevent tooth decay. Now pediatricians and nurses can tell parents about the risk of obesity related to prolonged bottle use," says Rachel Gooze, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate at Temple University in Philadelphia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years. Weaning toddlers off bottles around 12 months of age could help to fight this trend.
"Weaning a child isn't easy, and changing this behavior at age two is even harder," says Gooze. One solution, she says, might be to replace milk or juice in bottles with plain water, or to gradually decrease the number of bottles given during the day. —Carol Potera
Gooze RA, et al. J Pediatr
Apr 27 2011. [Epub ahead of print.]