Kids who drink whole-fat milk are healthier than those who drink low-fat

Children who consume more whole milk tend to be leaner and have higher vitamin D levels than those who regularly drink low-fat or skim milk, a team of Canadian pediatricians claimed in new research published online Wednesday by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to CBC and AFP News reports, lead author Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and his colleagues recruited nearly 2,800 children between the ages of two and six and monitored their height, weight, and body-mass index (BMI) levels.

Nearly half (49%) of the youngsters involved in the study drank whole milk with a fat content of 3.25%, while 35% drank 2% milk, 12% drank 1% milk, 4% drank skim milk and less than 1% of them consumed some combination of the four types of milk.

The study found that the whole milk drinkers had a BMI score that was 0.72 units lower than the 1% or 2% milk drinkers. Furthermore, blood tests taken as part of the study also revealed that the kids who drank one cup of whole milk per day had higher vitamin D levels than those who drank nearly three cups of 1% milk each day (likely because the vitamin in fat soluble).

“Whole milk consumption among healthy young children was associated with higher vitamin D stores and lower BMI,” Dr. Maguire and his colleagues wrote in the study. However, they added, future “longitudinal and interventional studies” will be needed “to confirm these findings.”

Possible reasons for the findings

As the CBC pointed out, the findings run contrary to current guidelines from Health Canada and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommend two servings of 1% or 2% lower fat milk per day for children over the age of two in order to help prevent childhood obesity.

However, as the media outlet also pointed out, childhood obesity in North America has tripled in the past three decades while consumption of whole milk by kids has dropped by 50% during that same time span. While the research appears to indicate that drinking higher-fat milk is associated with leaner youngsters, it did not investigate why this might be the case.

However, Dr. Maguire shared one possible explanation with the CBC: “If you don’t get fat from someplace, then you take energy from somewhere else,” he explained during an interview with the Canadian media outlet, “and it may be that children who are receiving reduced fat milk seek foods that are higher in caloric density, and maybe that’s why they’re a bit bigger.”

Another possibility, the authors told AFP, is that the higher fat content of whole milk may make children who drink it feel fuller than those who consume equal amounts of low-fat or skim milk. As a result, the whole-milk drinkers could feel less inclined to snack on other, possibly higher-calorie or less healthy products (sodas or candy bars, for example). Thus, these youngsters might ultimately be consuming fewer calories than those who consume low-fat or skim milk.

“It really amazes me today in 2016 that we don’t know what the right answer is and that we need to find out,” said Maguire, who told the CBC that he expects moms and dads to seek advice from their kids’ doctors on the matter. Ultimately, however, he added, “The choice of milk fat content that parents choose to provide their children is really a personal choice.”

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Image credit: Thinkstock

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