Mashblox' most digestible answer to the question, “What is the research case?”
One in five, or 315,413 Australian children (2017 statistics) are overweight or obese before entering preschool at five years old1, and estimates for overweight or obesity throughout the rest of the world are as high as almost a quarter of children under four2. The mantras of “diet and exercise” that I grew up with made no sense to explain why so many children were affected so young, before they could choose junk food or screen time, and before such a vast difference in exercise levels could express itself so dramatically. Have you ever seen a healthy, normally developing baby that wasn’t straining to stand, move, or escape? And if it was the food, then why were the figures so consistent across Mediterranean, European, American, British, Australian and Asian diets?
The most important thing that I could identify that we might have in common was spoon feeding, and a shared history of food scarcity: hence a global culture of pushing children to eat as much as possible (and potentially more than they need), just so they won’t starve.
Infant self-regulation has demonstrated the only successful obesity intervention initiative3 in the world for over 30 years4 (Gates Foundation 30 year study, 2013), and represents an emerging field of intense sustained interest in New Zealand5, UK6, and Italy7 in particular.
The problem with this research has been that anything solid enough for an infant to feed themselves a measurable portion of, also carries a choking risk in too many children8 for ethics approval of the research, without modifying methods by changing diet9 or the age that trials commence(parent led or baby led) . Meanwhile, ages 0 – 3 is one of two peak risk brackets for unhealthy weight gain,10 and 35 – 50% of children who become overweight or obese in their early childhood maintain overweight or obesity into adulthood.11
It’s not because they’re lazy or gluttonous or even that it’s hereditary: they’ve been taught to overeat, and they would never know the difference without very conscious self-reflection and consistent disciplined efforts. My own attempts at scaling back consumption always just left me feeling starved and deprived, which I’d soothe with emotional eating, typically gaining more weight.
So if choking risk is a limiting factor, how did that first study pass ethics approval?
They recruited parents who said they’d done baby self-feeding, and relied on self-report data that they remembered post-fact. But none of these parents would have persisted if they felt their baby was at risk, and any whose child did choke would have simply adopted other feeding styles, thereby opting out of the recruitment pool long before the study was thought of. Common sense, right?
The logic holds: If no one knows better than a baby how much they need to eat and they can’t necessarily tell you, then there’s significant possibility that when infants aren’t feeding themselves, many are regularly being slightly overfed, creating habits that last into childhood and beyond.11
There’s powerful parallel case well documented in the correlation of bottle feeding to lifelong obesity risk.12 13 14 15 16 17 Many studies wonder whether it’s the nutritional profile of breast milk vs formula: I’ve found one other abstract18 that agrees with my verdict that the most important difference between feeding from the bottle or the breast, is that the baby is able to turn away from a breast or stop suckling, but a bottle teat is held in their mouth and may contain a recommended volume.
Mashblox’ significance is to provide world-first bridge between age appropriate textures and kids’ ability to handle them, and my view is that it’s our responsibility to advance this research.
We currently have child feeding experts with specialties across autistic behaviours, food engagement and portion sizing, fussy eating, obesity intervention, and behavioural science esp. concerning child nutrition, engaged in our research plans between four Universities across the world.
- Alix O’Hara, Mashblox Inventor, Founder, CEO, August 2019.
You can also read our Submission to the Senate Committee on the Obesity Epidemic in Australia here, or watch Mashblox supporting science on YouTube (2:46)
1 V Brown, M Moodie, L Baur, L Ming Wen, A Hayes: The high cost of obesity in Australian pre-schoolers. Wiley Online Library 2017 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1753-6405.12628
3 Townsend E, Pitchford N. (2012) Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case–controlled sample, https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000298
4 Paulo A Lotufo, DrPH, Yuan Lu, MSc, Jixiang Ma, PhD, et Al (2013) Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study. The Lancet 2014 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60460-8/fulltext
5 Cameron, S; Taylor, R; Heath A-L; (2012) Parent-led or baby-led? Associations between complementary feeding practices and health-related behaviours in a survey of New Zealand families. BMJ Open 2013 (British Medical Journal) https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/12/e003946
6 7 E D’Auria, M Bergamini, A Staiano, G Banderali, E Pendezza, F Penagini, G V Zuccotti, D G Peroni (2018) Baby-led weaning: what a systematic review of the literature adds on. NCBI on behalf of the Italian Society of Pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934812/
8 L Fangupo, A-L Heath, S Williams, L Erickson Williams, B Morison, E Fleming, B Taylor, B Wheeler, R Taylor (2016) A Baby-led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Journal of Pediatrics 2016 https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/4/e20160772
9 L Erickson Williams, R Taylor, J Haszard, S Williams, E Fleming, L Daniels, B Morison, C Leong, L Fangupo, B Wheeler, B Taylor, L Morenga, R McLean, A-L Heath: Impact of a modified version of Baby-Led Weaning on infant food and nutrient intakes: The BLISS Randomized Controlled Trial Nutrients. MDPI 2018 https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/6/740
10 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) National Health Survey: Children’s risk factors
11 New South Wales Government: Healthy Kids Website https://www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au/stats-research/overweight-and-obesity.aspx
12 Grummer-Strawn LM, Mei Z. Does breastfeeding protect against pediatric overweight? Analysis of longitudinal data from the centers for disease control and prevention pediatric nutrition surveillance system. Journal of Pediatrics 2004
13 Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Camargo Jr CA, Berkey CS, Frazier AL, Rockett HRH et al. Risk of overweight among adolescents who were breastfed as infants. JAMA 2001
14 Arenz S, Ruckerl R, Koletzko B, von Kries R. Breastfeeding and childhood obesity—a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders 2004
15 Baird J, Poole J, Robinson S, Marriott L, Godfrey K, Cooper C et al. Milk feeding and dietary patterns predict weight and fat gains in infancy. Paediatric Perinatal Epidemiology 2008
16 Harder T, Bergmann R, Kallischnigg G, Plagemann A. Duration of breastfeeding and risk of overweight: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology 2005
17 Owen CG, Martin RM, Whincup PH, Davey Smith G, Gillman MW, Cook DG. The effect of breastfeeding on mean body mass index throughout life: a quantitative review of published and unpublished observational evidence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005
18 Oddy WH (2012) Infant feeding and obesity risk to the child. (Abstract) NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22946146