Skim milk linked with excess weight in toddlers, and full cream milk may be better

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 20th March 2013

Researchers in the US have found that consumption of skim milk may be linked with excess weight gain in pre-school aged children.

The research, published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, found the average weight of children who drank 2 per cent fat milk or full fat milk was lower than that of children who drank skim or semi-skim milk, even after accounting for other influential factors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association have until now recommended that all children drink low fat or skimmed milk after the age of 2 to reduce their saturated fat intake and ward off excess weight gain. But authors of the new study said that the evidence to back up the stance taken by the US health bodies is mixed and that the health outcomes of different milk options might be more complex.

Researchers asked the parents and primary caregivers of almost 11,000 children about their milk consumption – skimmed, 1 per cent semi-skimmed, 2 per cent milk fat, full fat, or soy – when the children were 2 years old and again when they were 4.

All the children were taking part in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which is tracking the long term health of a representative sample of US children born in 2001.

Additional detail was requested when the children were 4, including how much and how often they drank not only various types of milk, but also fruit juice, squash, fizzy drinks and sports drinks, so that researchers could calculate the fat and sugar intake from these sources. The children were also weighed and measured at both time points.

At both ages, the prevalence of overweight or obese children was high, affecting around one in three of the children (30 per cent of 2 year olds; 32 per cent of 4 year olds).

The prevalence of skimmed or semi-skimmed milk consumption was also higher among the overweight or obese children, with 14 per cent of heavy 2 year olds and 16 per cent of heavy 4 year olds drinking it, compared with 9 per cent of normal weight 2 year olds and 13 per cent of normal weight 4 year olds.

When the researchers looked at weight gain trends over time, they found no overall differences between those who drank skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and those who drank 2 per cent or full fat milk. The authors of the study said this suggests that low fat milk confers no overall health advantage, although they conceded it is possible that overweight children might have gained more weight had they not drunk it.

Nevertheless, those who regularly drank skimmed or semi-skimmed milk who were not overweight or obese at the age of 2 were 57 per cent more likely to become so by the age of 4.

The authors pointed out that the higher prevalence of skimmed or semi-skimmed milk consumption among overweight or obese children might reflect a parental wish to trim these children’s waistlines, as logic would suggest that lower fat intake equals fewer calories.

But they suggested that milk fat may increase a feeling of fullness and so reduce the appetite for other fatty or calorie dense foods.

The researchers suggested that rather than recommending low fat milk, it may be better to stick with other weight control options for which the evidence is sound, such as cutting down on television watching and sugary drinks, and increasing exercise and fruit and vegetable intake.

Meanwhile, Australian Food News recently reported that Australian researchers had also been investigating the role of milk in children’s diets, finding that those who drank milk from a glass or cup had a better nutrient uptake overall than those who only consumed milk as part of other food, or did not consume milk at all.