Formulas with Reduce Lactose Linked with Child Obesity

Obesity is the most prevalent nutritional disorder among children and adolescents in the United States. Approximately 21-24% of American children and adolescents are overweight, and another 16-18% is obese; the prevalence of obesity is highest among specific ethnic groups.

Childhood obesity predisposes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, liver and renal disease, and reproductive dysfunction. This condition also increases the risk of adult-onset obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Doctors may want to advise parents against giving their infants lactose-reduced infant formula unless absolutely necessary, because doing so may be setting babies up for an increased risk of obesity in toddlerhood.

Formulas with added sugar are labeled as “gentle” and marketed to improve colic or “fussiness” in infants by removal of lactose. However, these “gentle” formulas are distinct from other traditional formulas because they contain lower concentrations of lactose (and therefore galactose as well), often displaced by added sugar in the form of corn syrup solids.

What is new about formulas?

Infants who drink infant formula instead of breast milk already carry an increased risk of obesity. But the new study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found a difference in types of formula and obesity outcomes for children.

Babies under 1 year who received lactose-reduced formula made partially of corn syrup solids were at a 10% greater risk (risk ratio, 1.10) of being obese by age 2 than infants who received regular cow’s milk formula.

Researchers from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in southern California and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, analyzed data from over 15,000 infants in southern California enrolled in WIC.

Records from infants born between Sept. 2012 and March 2016 were separated into two groups: infants that had stopped breastfeeding by month 3 and had started reduced-lactose formula and infants who received all other forms of formula. Over 80% of infants in both groups were Hispanic.

Infants who received the reduced-lactose formula with corn syrup solids were at an 8% increased risk of obesity by age 3 (RR = 1.08), compared with children who received regular cow’s milk formula, and a 7% increased risk by age 4 (RR = 1.07).

In addition, emerging research shows corn syrup may act differently from other sugars in the gut microbiome and as it is metabolized in the liver, leading to weight gain.

The findings in this study should make pediatricians, parents, and others pause and consider what infant formulas contain. More research to do similar analyses in other populations is needed to draw cause and effect conclusions.


Christopher E Anderson, Shannon E Whaley, Michael I Goran, (August 23, 2022). Lactose-reduced infant formula with corn syrup solids and obesity risk among participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Retrieved from: 


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