National experts met at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting to discuss new, evidenced-based approaches to tackle childhood obesity.

Ajinomoto Co. Inc. sponsored the symposium titled: “Preventing Childhood Obesity: What the Food Industry Can Do.” The panel organizer and chair was Dr. Adam Drewnowski, the director of the Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, and professor of epidemiology with an adjunct appointment in medicine.

“Industry can play a significant role in developing and marketing foods that are nutrient-dense, affordable and appealing,” said Dr. Drewnowski. “Making such foods more available in the world marketplace is something that the food industry definitely can do.”

The event featured prominent researchers in nutrition, public health, food-related behavior and product develop­ment. Panelists agreed that obesity prevention must begin early in life—even earlier than previously thought.

”Accelerated weight gain during the first year of life increases later risk for a number of diseases, including obesity,” said Dr. Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “Formula-fed infants grow faster than their breastfed counterparts, and many experts believe that this difference may have long-term health implications.” 

Dr. Mennella also pointed out that not all formula-fed infants experience rapid growth, with differences in formula composition likely having an important effect.

Following up on recent findings that babies fed a standard cow milk formula tend to grow faster than do those fed protein-hydrolysate varieties, Dr. Mennella and Dr. Alison Ventura said they investigated the contribution of glutamate, the most abundant amino acid in breast milk, on infant satiety. Glutamate also is present at very high levels in protein hydrolysate formulas, but at very low levels in cow milk formula.

“Our findings showed that the amino acid glutamate helps promote infant satiety,” said Dr. Mennella. 

The speakers said this may help explain why breast-fed babies and those fed protein-hydrolysate formulas exhibit more normative growth than do infants fed cow milk formulas. The findings also call into question claims that formula-fed infants cannot self-regulate their energy intake.

These findings, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, were reported during the IFT symposium. Panelists also discussed other approaches for manipulating energy density, nutrient density and portion size.

“Reducing [the] energy density of food, without compromising taste and flavor, offers one promising tool toward weight management in kids,” said Dr. Barbara Rolls, an expert on feeding behavior at Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Rolls’ work has long focused on how to feel full on fewer calories—by adjusting food energy and food volume.

Dr. Britt Burton Freeman, Illinois Institute of Technology, discussed ways to boost the nutrient-to-calorie ratio within food products and thereby improve diet quality and ultimately lower childhood obesity rates. She urged industry to pursue new products that impart a sense of satiety and lower the urge to snack.

After the event concluded, Masatoshi Ito, president and CEO at Ajinomoto Co. Inc., shared his thoughts.

“As a global food company, we have a responsibility to pursue, identify and bring forward a range of options that provide enjoyment and satisfaction, while contributing to health and wellness,” he said. “We are excited to better understand how developing positive eating patterns early in life can have a favorable impact on our body weight and health as adults.”—Ajinomoto North America, www.