U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Agricultural Research Magazine 60(1): January 2012 pp. 8-9; ISSN 0002-161X


For millions of American infants, a bottle of warm, soy-based baby formula is what’s for dinner. It’s also what’s for breakfast, lunch, and all those between-meal feedings, as well.

At least, that’s the routine for a healthy, soy-fed baby’s first few months of life. After that, baby may be ready to handle solid food—puréed fruits and vegetables, for instance.

At the USDA-ARS Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, principal investigator Jin-Ran Chen, M.D., is taking a close look at the effects that soy formula, cow’s-milk formula, and mother’s milk have in regard to development of strong, healthy bones. As lead scientist in the center’s Skeletal Development Laboratory— and a father of two—Chen has a keen interest in this often-debated subject. “Very little is known about the short- and long-term effects of soy formula on bone health,” Chen points out.

In a series of studies, conducted with co-researchers at Little Rock, Chen is helping to fill in the knowledge gap. One study, for example, has provided a comprehensive comparison of bone formation in piglets that were fed either soy or cow’s-milk formula or sow’s milk. “No animal model is perfect,” says Chen, “but we chose pigs as the animal model for this research because the pig digestive system is generally regarded as being closest to ours."