Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have urged children to drink skim or low-fat milk for its nutritive benefits, thus establishing lower fat and calorie versions of the beverage as a staple of childhood nutrition.
However, new research published in the British Medical Journal’s Archives of Disease in Childhood states a diet of skim or low-fat milk may not be as effective in health and weight management as originally thought, especially for preschoolers.
Milk has been long thought to help kids maintain a healthy body weight. The beverage provides an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, essential for building and maintaining bone health.
Nutritional experts originally assessed lower-fat versions of milk were ideal over whole fat milk in a way of avoiding excess calorie intake and still attaining the nutritive benefits. It was proposed drinking lighter varieties would help curb the growing problem of obesity in children.
Several studies have had conflicting results: some finding no correlation between the types of milk children drank and their body weight, while others found skim milk drinkers were heavier than their whole milk-drinking counterparts.
Dr. Mark Daniel DeBoer, an associate professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and his colleagues evaluated the relationship between milk type consumed and weight status among preschool children.
They compiled data on 10,700 children between 2 and 4 years of age through an Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey.
The children were evaluated at age 2 and again at age 4, body mass indexes (BMI) were recorded, and dietary habits were assessed through interviews with parents and caregivers. They were asked specifically which type of milk the children drank as well as any other beverages they consumed like fruit juices, sports drinks, and sodas.
Results revealed 30 percent of the 2-year-olds and 32 percent of the 4-year-olds had overweight or obese qualifying BMIs. Researchers found a significant number of children who drank skim or low fat versions of milk were heavier in comparison to the average-weight children who consistently drank a higher fat percentage of milk. Overall, children who drank the two percent milk showed lower BMI scores than those drinking the one percent milk.
Additionally, children who were at a normal weight at the start of the study who converted to one percent milk showed a 57 percent increased chance of becoming overweight or obese by the age of 4.
It had been logically hypothesized that the children partaking of the higher milk fat version would have been heavier, as the concentration of saturated fat and calories in whole or two percent milk is higher in comparison to skim and low-fat. Instead, the opposite was true in this case. The BMI scores spiked as the percentage of fat in the milk declined.
DeBoer has some difficulty explaining the unexpected results, other than to assess it was likely the skim milk drinking children may have consumed additional dietary calories from food, data not incorporated. The survey data also did not account for genetic factors and family history of obesity. Although not conclusive, the overall findings are intriguing.
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