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Dietary protein intake and quality in early life: impact on growth and obesity

Lind, Mads V.; Larnkjær, Anni; Mølgaard, Christian; Michaelsen, Kim F.

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: January 2017 - Volume 20 - Issue 1 - p 71–76
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000338
PROTEIN, AMINO ACID METABOLISM AND THERAPY: Edited by Alessandro Laviano and Rajavel Elango

Purpose of review Obesity is an increasing problem and high-protein intake early in life seems to increase later risk of obesity. This review summarizes recent publications in the area including observational and intervention studies and publications on underlying mechanisms.

Recent findings Recent observational and randomized controlled trials confirmed that high-protein intake in early life seems to increase early weight gain and the risk of later overweight and obesity. Recent studies have looked at the effect of different sources of protein, and especially high-animal protein intake seems to have an effect on obesity. Specific amino acids, such as leucine, have also been implicated in increasing later obesity risk maybe via specific actions on insulin-like growth factor I. Furthermore, additional underlying mechanisms including epigenetics have been linked to long-term obesogenic programming. Finally, infants with catch-up growth or specific genotypes might be particularly vulnerable to high-protein intake.

Summary Recent studies confirm the associations between high-protein intake during the first 2 years and later obesity. Furthermore, knowledge of the mechanisms involved and the role of different dietary protein sources and amino acids has increased, but intervention studies are needed to confirm the mechanisms. Avoiding high-protein intake in early life holds promise as a preventive strategy for childhood obesity.

Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Correspondence to Dr Kim F. Michaelsen, Professor, Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 26, 3rd Floor, 1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark. Tel: +45 35 33 24 95; e-mail:

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