Kids Who Drink Skim Milk Are More Likely To Be Overweight, Study Finds

Kids Who Drink Skim Milk Are More Likely To Be Overweight, Study Finds

If you were in school during the 90s, chances are you grew up during the height of  the “low-fat” craze.

You might recall commercial after commercial on TV promoting low-fat everything.

Trying to lose weight but have a sweet tooth? Go for the low-fat cookies. Love your morning yogurt but watching your figure? No problem, just have the low-fat version.

Kids Who Drink Skim Milk Are More Likely To Be Overweight

If you’re part of the “low-fat” generation, then chances are you also heard “got milk?” more times than you can count.

Take the “low-fat” generation, combine it with the “got milk?” craze, then jump forward to now. Today’s parents tend to serve up skim or low-fat cow’s milk to their kids. So why are we currently seeing a critical rise in childhood obesity?

As parents, we want the healthiest options for our children. We want to make sure they’re growing properly. We want them to get adequate calcium and protein, but we also want them to be at a healthy weight.

As it turns out, skim milk doesn’t appear to reduce the risk of obesity in our children. In fact, it might be doing just the opposite.

Does Skim Milk Improve Kids’ Health?

Nutrition experts don’t agree on every aspect of what’s healthy. If you look up a special diet or supplements you’ll find plenty of contradictory advice.

But it seems plenty of research has shown several potential correlations between certain foods and the risk of childhood obesity.

It isn’t surprising foods such as sugary breakfast cereals could play a role in childhood obesity. But it might surprise you to hear research shows skim milk doesn’t result in lower weight.

A Canadian study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found children who consumed full fat milk (also known as whole milk) were leaner than children who consumed skim, or milk with 1% or 2% fat.

Researchers looked at 2,745 children aged two to six. During wellness visits they surveyed parents, calculated the children’s Body Mass Index (BMI), and took blood samples to check vitamin D levels.

The study found children who consumed full fat milk had:

  • A (BMI) score which was 0.72 units lower than those in the study who drank 1% or 2% fat milk. This can be the difference between a healthy weight and one that causes concern
  • Higher levels of vitamin D; children who had just one cup of whole milk per day had similar or higher levels, compared with children who consumed three cups of skim milk per day.

How Is Drinking Full Fat Milk Connected To A Lower BMI?

It seems odd that drinking full fat milk would result in a lower BMI. After all, how could drinking more fat help to maintain a healthy weight?

In addition to the study in Canada, a US study also found a correlation between drinking full fat milk and a healthy weight.

This study looked at 10,700 preschoolers and found overweight children were more likely to drink skim, 1% or 2% milk regularly

Researchers in each study had a few ideas as to why, including:

  • Drinking full fat milk keeps children feeling fuller longer, making them less likely to snack on high calorie foods.
  • Children who have a higher BMI are simply served skim milk to help control weight, which, based on these studies, is ineffective.

Why Is Vitamin D Important?

As we’ve known for a long time, Vitamin D is important to help our bodies absorb calcium, for healthy strong bones. Recent research has shown vitamin D might also have a role to play in preventing many chronic diseases.

Human bodies are designed to get vitamin D through sun exposure rather than from dietary intake. Making sure our children have adequate sun exposure can be a challenge, though, especially as current guidelines recommend less sun exposure to reduce the risk of  skin cancer.

So we have to turn to diet to make up the deficit, and prevent our children becoming vitamin D deficient. You probably know dairy is considered a rich source of vitamin D, but you might not be aware that the nutritional amount is added to most dairy products.

The difference in fat percentage might be the factor in how much vitamin D your child is consuming.

How can vitamin D levels be comparable between those who drink one cup of whole milk and those who drink three cups of skim milk?

Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a paediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital and the lead author of the Canadian study, says it’s probably related to vitamin D being fat soluble. The higher level of fat in whole milk means higher levels of vitamin D in it.

Why Is It Recommended Children Drink Milk?

In the past, it was recommended young children, up to 5 years old, have 2-3 servings of dairy per day, including whole fat milk.

With the increase of childhood obesity, the recommendation has changed. Now it’s suggested they drink whole milk only until aged 2, with the assumption children already consume plenty of fat in their diet.

Young children experience rapid growth in their early years, including brain growth. For this reason, it’s vital they consume adequate amounts of protein, calcium, and healthy fats.

Milk happens to be a food which contains protein, calcium and fat. It’s typically affordable, easily available, and easy to get a toddler to consume.

With the current obesity crisis, in both children and adults, it’s even more important healthcare providers and researchers work towards making the best overall recommendations.

An important part of making recommendations is looking at the data from larger studies.

Because it takes quite a while to see the long-term effects of dietary recommendations, guidelines sometime change.

The studies mentioned above have found low fat milk doesn’t seem to be beneficial in young children. It doesn’t help with weight control, and it’s possible children feel less full after drinking it, which leads to extra snacking.

Do Children Need To Drink Milk?

If you’re part of the “got milk?” era, you probably grew up having milk at breakfast, lunch and maybe even dinner. On top of that, you were probably offered cheese and yogurt as snacks, and ice cream for dessert.

If you’re in the US, dairy is a massive part of the overall diet. And if you’ve researched weaning your baby or toddler, you’ve probably looked up the best ways to transition to cow’s milk.

When my oldest child was a toddler and preparing to wean, we found out he had a cow’s milk protein allergy. I remember looking at the doctor with concern and asking, “Well, what should he drink?”

To which she nonchalantly answered, “Water”.

I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea he couldn’t have his two to three glasses of milk a day. However, after doing a lot more research, I learned dairy isn’t a must for human beings.

It’s recommended with good reason. As mentioned above, it’s a simple source of protein, calcium and healthy fat.

However, for children who can’t have it, or for parents who don’t want them to consume it, it isn’t a need, provided they have adequate nutrition from other sources.

You can read Humans Don’t Need Cows’ Milk Says Nutritionist to learn more.

What Do Parents Need To Know?

Recommendations come and go, so what does this information mean for you?

First, neither study was able to find an exact reason for the correlation between skim or low fat milk consumption and children being overweight.

However, it seems there is no benefit for young children in consuming low fat dairy products.

Growing bodies need healthy fat. If a child isn’t getting adequate healthy fats, they are more likely to be hungry between meals, and snack on less than optimal foods, such as high processed and sugar loaded products.

More and more research is showing the diet foods we heard about while growing up aren’t actually healthier for us. Low-fat milk might not be good for children.

Low-fat dairy products often contain loads of sugar to mask the less appealing taste. Diet soft drinks are still linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Whenever possible, it’s best to stick to healthy whole foods, or foods which are closest to their natural state.

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Maria Pyanov CPD, CCE CONTRIBUTOR

Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.


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