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Researchers from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Institute of Education have concluded that adolescents fed supplemented or nutrient-enriched formula as babies did not have higher test scores than those who took standard formula.

Researchers gathered data from seven controlled trials and compared them with the children’s school performance at 11-16 years old. They did not see any difference in performance between those fed standard and enriched formula.

While breastfeeding is the best option for babies, breastfeeding is not prevalent beyond six weeks in some countries. About 60% of infants less than sex months consume formula. For this reason, many experts suggest that modifying formula improves cognitive development. However, there is no evidence to suggest modifying formula can enhance cognitive development in the long term.

How researchers conducted the study 

The researchers wanted to address the inconclusive results of the study. They evaluated effects from seven separate trials for modified formula conducted at five hospitals from August 1993 to October 2001. The study involved 1763 adolescents.

Among the trials, two of them looked into the formula with a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid which is a breast milk component that is involved in the development of the brain. Two tests looked into the formula with high macronutrient concentration, one tested additional iron, while the last two tested formula with sn-2 palmitate, which plays no role in cognitive development. Researchers used the data in 2018 to find out if enriched formula increased performance in school. Children given modified formula did not seem to have any extra advantages thank those who took standard formula. Children aged 11 who had taken formula with sn-2 palmitate did not have different scores in English and mathematics. However, those who had consumed LCPUFA had lower scores in both subjects at 11.

Results for the study might no longer be applicable

Despite the results, researchers note that the trials were conducted years ago. Since then, neonatal care and formula composition has improved. Because more preterm and sick infants survive, they might have different sensitivities to these components. However, the follow-up was some correctly as researchers used GCSE sores which are important to adolescents.

Other researchers from the University of Glasgow point out that most studies involving milk trials are poorly conducted. Moreover, the extra nutrients could be harmful to the infant.