New research has been all over the headlines recently for suggesting that children who drink whole milk are 39% less likely to be overweight than children who drink reduced fat or skim milk. The study has been broadcast to audiences of the New York Times, CNN Health, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and more.
In a time when childhood obesity has tripled in the last 40 years alone, this observation could be especially promising for the dairy industry — especially since fuller fat milk is more flavorful and desirable for many kids’ palates.
Studying milkfat consumption
A team from the University of Toronto analyzed 14 past studies of nearly 21,000 children up to age 18 that investigated the health effects of milk consumption during childhood. Although the reports had found variable responses to dairy, none had explicitly examined milkfat levels. The Canadian researchers sorted through the data to look for trends in milkfat effects, and they found that children consuming whole milk were not heavier, as opponents of whole milk may argue. In fact, the full-fat drinkers were less likely to even be overweight.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is certainly a very complicated topic influenced by a number of factors such as how and when children eat, in addition to what they eat. However, the researchers theorized that drinking whole milk may lead children to consume fewer calories from other, perhaps less nutritious, foods.
Next, the researchers plan on conducting a randomized study following 500 children over two years to specifically control for milkfat in correlation with body weight.
Kids need fat
We know that growing children have high energy requirements, and more fat helps meet those needs. Getting fat from whole milk is a bonus to the valuable calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins that milk contributes to the health of a child.
Pediatric professional organizations around the world currently recommend 2% milk for children after their second birthday in order to limit extra fat in the diet. Skim and 1% are generally not seen as suitable for children under 5 years old. This analysis suggests that extra fat from providing whole milk in the diet may not be as undesirable as was once thought.
Doing a body good
When parents provide their children with the recommended three servings of dairy each day, in any form, they are contributing to healthy body development. The study reported that, in Canada, cow’s milk is consumed daily by 88% of 1- to 3-year-olds and by 76% of 4- to 8-year-olds. With this research, parents (and schools, too) should not be afraid of providing a fuller-fat milk that may lead even more children to want to pick up nature’s most nearly perfect food.