Growth and development are central characteristics of childhood. Deviations from normal growth can indicate serious health challenges. The adverse impact of early growth faltering and malnutrition on later health has long been known. In contrast, the impact of rapid early weight and body fat gain on programming of later disease risk have only recently received increased attention. Numerous observational studies related diet in early childhood and rapid early growth to the risk of later obesity and associated disorders. Causality was confirmed in a large, double-blind randomised trial testing the ‘Early Protein Hypothesis'. In this trial we found that attenuation of protein supply in infancy normalized early growth and markedly reduced obesity prevalence in early school age. These results indicate the need to describe and analyse growth patterns and their regulation through diet in more detail and to characterize the underlying metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms, given the potential major relevance for public health and policy. Better understanding of growth patterns and their regulation could have major benefits for the promotion of public health, consumer-orientated nutrition recommendations, and the development of improved food products for specific target populations.

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