Junkfood Science: Alert to mothers! Please don’t feed your children like birds

April 09, 2008

Alert to mothers! Please don’t feed your children like birds

Good heavens. This is the most unthinkable reporting of a research study in recent history — and that’s saying something. :)

Nothing better demonstrates how over-the-top today’s obesity hysteria has become and the willingness to make anything and everything about obesity.

Tuesday, the BBC News (mis)reported that “growth spurts in early childhood could cause obesity.” Researchers from the University of Glasgow, we were told, purportedly showed “for the first time” that early growth patterns could cause long-term changes in metabolisms and that what children are fed could later cause obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Mothers, please don’t underfeed your babies thinking you can stop their growth spurts or prevent obesity, based on this news story or anything else you hear.

This study had nothing to do with babies, or obesity, or chronic diseases of aging....

In fact, humans weren’t even mentioned.

This study was on different feeds and feeding practices for Taeniopygia guttatas — zebra finches, exotic and adorable little singing birds from central Australia. The researchers were ornithologists — academics who study birds, both living and extinct — at the University of Glasgow's Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences and Veterinary School.

Note to BBC New and the dozens of news outlets that have picked up this story: Children are not baby zebra finches! This story may have deserved mention in the bird hobbyist section, not in the medical news. Zebra finches need sand and grit in their diets everyday, too, but that doesn’t mean mothers should feed their babies from the sand box, either!

The study

[I can’t believe I’m actually discussing a study looking at BMIs in birds... So, this will be very brief.]

This paper was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Basically, they allocated zebra finch families to high- and low-quality feeds (mostly differing in protein) for the first 15 days of chick growth, and then randomly allocated them again to high- and low-quality feeds for another 15 days. After 30 days, all of the birds ate the same feed. They watched their growth, and measured their metabolisms (putting them into little bird metabolic chambers in the dark for 9 hours after being fasted overnight) and their BMIs. [Sorry, we are not getting into specifics of bird BMIs. LOL!] The authors didn’t examine diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, and no credible speculations can be made based on this study.

Bottom line, at 30 days, there was no difference among any of the birds in their resting metabolic rates. The little birds getting poor diets had stunted growth while they were in bird “childhood” [unlike humans, there was no way to evaluate what effect this might have had on their brain development] and little birds getting good diets grew more quickly with “accelerations in body mass” during "childhood." But, despite the news reporting, no matter what the birds were fed while youngsters, it did not change the size they ended up being when they grew up to adulthood.

They all “reached the same adult mass at 200 days, but by different growth trajectories,” said the authors.

Even in little zebra finches, it appears, they are going to grow up to be whatever size and shape they were naturally meant to be, regardless of trying to manipulate their diets.

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