Higher versus lower protein intake in formula-fed term infants

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Abstract

Background: Many infants are fed infant formulas to promote growth. Some formulas have a high protein content (≥ 2.5 g per 100 kcal) to accelerate weight gain during the first year of life. The risk-benefit balance of these formulas is unclear. Objectives: To evaluate the benefits and harms of higher protein intake versus lower protein intake in healthy, formula-fed term infants. Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, LILACS, OpenGrey, clinical trial registries, and conference proceedings in October 2022. Selection criteria: We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of healthy formula-fed infants (those fed only formula and those given formula as a complementary food). We included infants of any sex or ethnicity who were fed infant formula for at least three consecutive months at any time from birth. We excluded quasi-randomized trials, observational studies, and infants with congenital malformations or serious underlying diseases. We defined high protein content as 2.5 g or more per 100 kcal, and low protein content as less than 1.8 g per 100 kcal (for exclusive formula feeding) or less than 1.7 g per 100 kcal (for complementary formula feeding). Data collection and analysis: Four review authors independently assessed the risk of bias and extracted data from trials, and a fifth review author resolved discrepancies. We performed random-effects meta-analyses, calculating risk ratios (RRs) or Peto odds ratios (Peto ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for dichotomous outcomes, and mean differences (MDs) with 95% CIs for continuous outcomes. We used the GRADE approach to evaluate the certainty of the evidence. Main results: We included 11 RCTs (1185 infants) conducted in high-income countries. Seven trials (1629 infants) compared high-protein formula against standard-protein formula, and four trials (256 infants) compared standard-protein formula against low-protein formula. The longest follow-up was 11 years. High-protein formula versus standard-protein formula. We found very low-certainty evidence that feeding healthy term infants high-protein formula compared to standard-protein formula has little or no effect on underweight (MD in weight-for-age z-score 0.05 SDs, 95% CI −0.09 to 0.19; P = 0.51, I2 = 61%; 7 studies, 1629 participants), stunting (MD in height-for-age z-score 0.15 SDs, 95% CI −0.05 to 0.35; P = 0.14, I2 = 73%; 7 studies, 1629 participants), and wasting (MD in weight-for-height z-score −0.12 SDs, 95% CI −0.31 to 0.07; P = 0.20, I2 = 94%; 7 studies, 1629 participants) in the first year of life. We found very low-certainty evidence that feeding healthy infants high-protein formula compared to standard-protein formula has little or no effect on the occurrence of overweight (RR 1.26, 95% CI 0.63 to 2.51; P = 0.51; 1 study, 1090 participants) or obesity (RR 1.96, 95% CI 0.59 to 6.48; P = 0.27; 1 study, 1090 participants) at five years of follow-up. No studies reported all-cause mortality. Feeding healthy infants high-protein formula compared to standard-protein formula may have little or no effect on the occurrence of adverse events such as diarrhea, vomiting, or milk hypersensitivity (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.13; P = 0.44, I2 = 0%; 4 studies, 445 participants; low-certainty evidence) in the first year of life. Standard-protein formula versus low-protein formula. We found very low-certainty evidence that feeding healthy infants standard-protein formula compared to low-protein formula has little or no effect on underweight (MD in weight-for-age z-score 0.0, 95% CI −0.43 to 0.43; P = 0.99, I2 = 81%; 4 studies, 256 participants), stunting (MD in height-for-age z-score −0.01, 95% CI −0.36 to 0.35; P = 0.96, I2 = 73%; 4 studies, 256 participants), and wasting (MD in weight-for-height z-score 0.13, 95% CI −0.29 to 0.56; P = 0.54, I2 = 95%; 4 studies, 256 participants) in the first year of life. No studies reported overweight, obesity, or all-cause mortality. Feeding healthy infants standard-protein formula compared to low-protein formula may have little or no effect on the occurrence of adverse events such as diarrhea, vomiting, or milk hypersensitivity (Peto OR 1.55, 95% CI 0.70 to 3.40; P = 0.28, I2 = 0%; 2 studies, 206 participants; low-certainty evidence) in the first four months of life. Authors' conclusions: We are unsure if feeding healthy infants high-protein formula compared to standard-protein formula has an effect on undernutrition, overweight, or obesity. There may be little or no difference in the risk of adverse effects between infants fed with high-protein formula versus those fed with standard-protein formula. We are unsure if feeding healthy infants standard-protein formula compared to low-protein formula has any effect on undernutrition. There may be little or no difference in the risk of adverse effects between infants fed with standard-protein formula versus those fed with low-protein formula. The findings of six ongoing studies and two studies awaiting classification studies may change the conclusions of this review.

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Gonzalez-Garay, A. G., Serralde-Zúñiga, A. E., Medina Vera, I., Velasco Hidalgo, L., & Alonso Ocaña, M. V. (2023, November 6). Higher versus lower protein intake in formula-fed term infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD013758.pub2

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