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Timing of the introduction of complementary feeding and risk of childhood obesity: a systematic review


The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age and continued breastfeeding until 2 years of age or beyond. Appropriate complementary foods should be introduced in a timely fashion, beginning when the infant is 6 months old. In developing countries, early or inappropriate complementary feeding may lead to malnutrition and poor growth, but in countries such as the United Kingdom and United States of America, where obesity is a greater public health concern than malnutrition, the relationship to growth is unclear. We conducted a systematic review of the literature that investigated the relationship between the timing of the introduction of complementary feeding and overweight or obesity during childhood. Electronic databases were searched from inception until 30 September 2012 using specified keywords. Following the application of strict inclusion/exclusion criteria, 23 studies were identified and reviewed by two independent reviewers. Data were extracted and aspects of quality were assessed using an adapted Newcastle–Ottawa scale. Twenty-one of the studies considered the relationship between the time at which complementary foods were introduced and childhood body mass index (BMI), of which five found that introducing complementary foods at <3 months (two studies), 4 months (2 studies) or 20 weeks (one study) was associated with a higher BMI in childhood. Seven of the studies considered the association between complementary feeding and body composition but only one study reported an increase in the percentage of body fat among children given complementary foods before 15 weeks of age. We conclude that there is no clear association between the timing of the introduction of complementary foods and childhood overweight or obesity, but some evidence suggests that very early introduction (at or before 4 months), rather than at 4–6 months or >6 months, may increase the risk of childhood overweight.

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This study was funded by a grant from the Feeding for Life Foundation.

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Correspondence to J Pearce.

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Pearce, J., Taylor, M. & Langley-Evans, S. Timing of the introduction of complementary feeding and risk of childhood obesity: a systematic review. Int J Obes 37, 1295–1306 (2013).

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  • child
  • obesity
  • diet
  • nutrient intake
  • weaning
  • complementary feeding

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