Healthy infant feeding can help stem the staggering rise in childhood obesity, according to a Michigan State University nursing professor who will use a $1.5 million federal grant to start a new three-year infant feeding program. Mildred Horodynski of MSU's College of Nursing will work with first-time mothers of infants less than 4 months of age to promote appropriate and responsive feeding styles and practices, known as infant-centered feeding. Her project, entitled "Healthy Babies Through Infant-Centered Feeding," which takes place in Michigan and Colorado, is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
"One of the key factors contributing to childhood obesity is poor feeding practices during infancy," she said. "Because mothers are primarily responsible for infant feeding and have profound influences on growth patterns, they need support in learning how to feed their infants in an appropriate manner."
More than 10 million U.S. children are overweight, according to federal health figures, leading to $117 billion in annual health-related costs. Many mothers, particularly those in low-income families, often struggle when feeding infants by misinterpreting hunger and satiety cues, pressuring infants to "finish their bottle" or "finish everything on their plate" during feeding times, and introducing solid foods and sweetened beverages too early.
"Our earlier research shows that while many mothers have some knowledge about infant nutrition and feeding, they continue to rely on inappropriate indicators of satiation, such as sleeping through the night and advice of extended family members," she said.
Focusing on early and effective interventions can promote healthy eating habits early in infancy and defray a large amount of healthcare costs related to health problems that can occur later in life, such as hypertension and diabetes, Horodynski added.
As part of the project, mothers over a six-week period will receive six healthy feeding lessons provided by a trained paraprofessional, focusing on appropriate feeding practices.
The lessons address maternal responsiveness, feeding styles, and feeding practices as infants transition to solid food. Data will be collected at three points in time during an in-home visit by trained data collectors, at the beginning of the study, when the infant is 6 months old and at 12 months, against mothers in a comparison group.
"We expect study participants will demonstrate improved responsiveness to infant feeding cues, such as waiting until the infant is 4 to 6 months old to begin introducing solid foods, feeding styles, such as letting the baby decide how much to eat, and feeding practices, such as providing appropriate portion sizes for babies according to their developmental stages than with the comparison participants," Horodynski said."The long-term goal is to identify an intervention that can be translated state-wide and beyond to improving the nation's nutrition and health by promoting the development of healthy eating habits at an early age."