The study looked at whether the way mothers introduced solid foods to their babies (weaning) was linked to the child's weight and their "eating style" as a toddler. Researchers looked at two methods of weaning: "traditional" spoon-feeding and what is termed baby-led weaning (BLW), where babies pick up food and feed themselves.
The study found that the BLW babies were less likely to be overweight when assessed between the ages of 18 and 24 months. However, babies in both groups were predominantly of a normal weight.
The researchers speculate that the BLW approach may lead to better appetite control in later life, but this speculation remains entirely hypothetical. However, they did find a bigger "satiety response" in the BLW group, which is the child's ability to regulate what they eat when they feel full.
The study does not show that spoon-feeding causes obesity. It has several limitations, including the fact that it is based on mothers self-reporting, which might affect its reliability. A longer follow-up period would also be useful, as it is currently unclear whether toddlers who were overweight would stay that way in the future.
Still, parental approaches to feeding are an important area of research. Experts agree that a relaxed attitude to feeding and allowing babies to explore food is best for the child, although this is often easier said than done. Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from Swansea University. There is no information about external funding. It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatric Obesity.
This study was covered rather too uncritically in both The Independent and the Daily Mail.
The Independent reports on the study as if the researchers' hypothesis that baby-led weaning leads to better appetite control in later life is a proven fact. This is certainly not the case. What kind of research was this?
This was a cohort study looking at whether the way babies were weaned was linked to their eating behaviour and weight at 18-24 months.
This type of study is often used to examine whether certain lifestyle factors are linked to later health outcomes, but it cannot prove cause and effect.
It is always possible that other factors (confounders) may influence the results of a cohort study, although researchers usually try to take these factors into account.
A lot of supportive evidence is needed before we can be reasonably certain that a lifestyle habit or exposure directly causes a health outcome. Ideally, as the researchers point out, a randomised controlled trial would be carried out.
The researchers say it is important to understand the role of the early feeding environment in determining the risk of obesity. For example, a "controlling parental child feeding style" has been associated with poorer appetite regulation in previous studies, such as a BMJ study covered by Behind the Headlines in 2012.
The researchers point out that traditionally infants are weaned with puréed foods, which tend to be spoon-fed by a parent or carer, alongside a gradual introduction to finger foods (standard weaning, or SW).
However, baby-led weaning (BLW) is a recent popular trend that emphasizes self-feeding by infants from the age of six months. This means foods are presented to the baby in their whole form and the baby decides which food item to select, how much to eat and how quickly to eat it.
The researchers set out to examine whether infants weaned using a baby-led approach exhibited differences in eating behaviour during their second year, compared with those weaned using a standard approach. The study also explored the role of maternal control, breastfeeding duration and the timing of the introduction of solid foods.
This is the…