If you’re a pediatrician you’re probably familiar with the “Early Protein Hypothesis.”

But if you’re a parent, you’re probably saying, “huh?”

The Early Protein Hypothesis tries to explain the relationship between high protein intake in toddlers and later BMI and obesity risk.

Yes, too much protein early in life can be a bad thing. Who knew? This research supplies yet more evidence that habits matter. Start your kids off early on too much protein and the impact probably won’t be what you expect.

The solution: Rather than focus on getting protein—or any particular nutrients—into your kids. Teach your children the three habits of healthy eating.

Most of the parents I encounter are concerned about getting enough protein into their children.

Even when I tell them that most American children consume way more protein than they need.

I’ve had parents tell me that they don’t care about the recommendations for protein intake because they know that you can never have too much.

Hey, we’re Americans…bigger is always better!

Protein intake during the first 2 years of life that exceed 15% of total calories increases the risk of increased weight gain.

The Institute of Medicine recommends:

  • Children 7-12 months consume 11 grams of protein daily
  • Children 1-3 years old need about 13 grams of protein daily
  • Children 4-8 years old need about 19 grams of protein daily

Protein intake from animals and particularly dairy, compared to plant protein, seems to be particularly problematic. According to the American Society for Nutrition:

“[I]t is prudent to avoid excessive intakes of animal protein in young children from milk and from complementary and family foods, because intakes far above requirements have no known benefit but carry a possible risk.”

Two cups of milk provide more protein than young children need.

  • Milk and yogurt contain 8 grams of protein per cup. Two cups=16 grams of protein; more than anyone under 3 needs to consume.
  • If your children drink milk, they don’t need any more protein.
  • And if your children don’t drink milk, they can grow up just fine. Read Got Milk? Some Say You Don’t Need It.

Now there’s research showing that teen boys consume way too much protein. More on that later.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Koletzko, B., H. Demmelmair, V. Grote, C. Prell, and M. Weber. 2016. “High Protein Intake in Young Children and Increased Weight Gain and Obesity Risk.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. First published ahead of print January 20, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.128009.