Infant Feeding Practices Not Linked to Childhood Food Allergies

Diana Phillips

September 02, 2014

Early infant feeding practices do not predict the development of food allergy in children, nor do they protect against it, a new study suggests. However, the duration of exclusive breast-feeding and timing of complementary food introduction are associated with other health outcomes, including lower rates of ear, throat, and sinus infections and dietary habits that may have long-term health consequences.

These findings, from the Year 6 Follow-Up (Y6FU) to the Infant Feeding Practices Study II (IFPS-II), were published September 2 in a Pediatrics supplement. The longitudinal study enrolled women between 2005 and 2007 and focused on infant feeding practices and diets of women from their third trimester to 12 months postpartum.

The newly published 6-year follow-up data add to the growing body of knowledge about the long-term effects of early postnatal nutrition on later health and disease, write Laurence M. Grummer-Strawn, PhD, from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues in an accompanying editorial.

In the IFPS-II, infants were followed almost monthly from the third trimester of pregnancy to age 12 months. As part of the Y6FU study, researchers contacted the mothers of these infants 6 years later for information on diet, health, and developmental outcomes.

Breastfeeding Not Linked to Food Allergies

To determine whether and to what degree practices such as breast-feeding and timing of complementary food introduction influence food allergies, Stefano Luccioli, MD, from the Offices of Food Additive Safety at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, United States Food and Drug Administration, College Park, Maryland, and colleagues analyzed infant and maternal variables in the Y6FU cohort. Of 1542 children in the total Y6FU sample, they included 1363 children who had complete information in their analysis.

Overall, 97 (6.3%) children had a physician-diagnosed food allergy. Of those, 78 children had developed a new food allergy after age 1 year. However, of the children who had been taken to a physician for a possible food allergy, more than a third (37.2%) appeared to have outgrown it.

The authors found that higher maternal education, higher family income, family history of food allergy, and reported eczema before 1 year were significantly associated with higher risk of total or new food allergy. By contrast, exclusive breast-feeding duration and timing of complementary food introduction were not.

"These findings support other observations showing the relative importance of socioeconomic and atopic factors in childhood food allergies," the authors write.

A Treasure Trove of Data

In addition to the allergy study, other findings from the Y6FU study reported in the Pediatrics supplement include:

  • An association between longer duration of breast-feeding and later introduction of foods or beverages other than breast milk, and lower rates of ear, nose, throat, and sinus infections in the year preceding the survey.

  • A 2-fold increased likelihood of childhood obesity at age 6 years among children who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages as infants.

  • An association between longer breast-feeding and increased consumption of water, fruit, and vegetables, and decreased consumption of fruit juice and sugar-sweetened beverages at age 6 years.

  • An association between frequency of fruit and vegetable intake during the first year of life and likelihood of continued frequency of fruit and vegetable intake at age 6 years.

These reports "represent only the beginning of the multiple research opportunities provided by the [Y6FU]," Dr. Grummer-Strawn and colleagues write in an accompanying editorial. "Detailed information on many other aspects of the prenatal and postpartum environment, such as maternal diet, employment, daycare, and sleep arrangements, is available from the IFPS-II."

Pediatrics. 2014;134:S1-S2, S21-S28.

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