Children who begin eating solid finger foods rather than being given pureed baby foods by their parents developed healthier eating patterns, researchers found.
In comparison with parental spoon-feeding, baby-led weaning was associated with a significant preference for carbohydrates (P=0.003), according to Ellen Townsend, PhD, and Nicola J. Pitchford, DPhil, of the University of Nottingham in England.
In fact, children who were introduced to solid foods by feeding themselves preferred carbohydrates over all other types of foods, with a preference rating of 1.82, with 1 being the highest rating and 5 the lowest, while spoon-fed babies preferred sweets, with a rating of 1.81, the researchers reported online in BMJ Open.
"Our findings show that baby-led weaning has a positive impact on the liking for carbohydrates -- foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition (i.e., those found at the bottom of the food pyramid)," they observed.
There has been considerable interest in baby-led weaning, which encourages a less controlling parental style and can help ease maternal worries about appropriate feeding, the authors noted.
However, the effects on infant health have not been explored, so Townsend and Pitchford recruited the parents of 155 children, 92 of whom had baby-led weaning while the remainder were spoon-fed with pureed foods.
Parents completed a questionnaire about their weaning style and infants' food preferences, and provided other information such as socioeconomic status.
At the time of the study, children in the baby-led group were significantly younger than the spoon-fed group (32.12 months versus 41.62 months), so the researchers also generated a case-control sample of 74 age-matched participants to control for potential differences in food preferences according to age.
Aside from carbohydrates, the baby-led group also favored protein-based foods and whole meals, although after adjustment these differences compared with the spoon-fed group were no longer significant.
In the case-control sub-sample, increased exposure to carbohydrates was not associated with preference for these foods, which "suggests that for carbohydrates, the only food category with significant group differences, weaning style was more influential than exposure on preference ratings," explained Townsend and Pitchford.
The researchers then examined the effects of type of weaning on BMI, and found that the baby-weaned group were closer to the 50th percentile (48.46 versus 61.44, P=0.009).
The differences in BMI between the groups were not explained by differences in birth weights, which were similar, at slightly over 7 lb.
They also calculated BMI z-scores and found that more children in the spoon-fed group were obese (8 versus 1), but more in the baby-led group were underweight (3 versus 0, P=0.02), a finding that will require more research.
There were no associations between BMI scores and duration of breastfeeding or parental socioeconomic status.
Possible reasons why self-feeding babies showed a preference for carbohydrates included ease of chewing, pleasing presentation, and texture in foods such as toast, the researchers suggested.
Future studies should examine the effects of baby-led weaning in specific groups, such as premature infants or those with medical problems.
In addition, a large trial should more fully explore weaning in conjunction with other early-childhood factors such as breast versus bottle feeding and "picky eating," according to Townsend and Pitchford.
By Nancy Walsh
Source: medpage TODAY - http://goo.gl/Ximnc