Should Kids Drink Whole Fat Milk? Study Offers New Answer

Children who drink whole milk are less likely to be obese, according to a study which questions international dietary guidelines.

Researchers analysed data from 28 existing studies across seven countries involving a total of 20,897 healthy children aged between one and 18 years old. They concluded those who drank whole milk had a 40 percent lower chance of being overweight or obese compared with those who drank low-fat milk. The findings were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Most children in North America drink cow's milk each day, and official guidelines state kids over the age of two should drink milk with between 0.1 to 2 percent fat in order to cut their risk of becoming obese, the authors explained.

For instance, the U.S. 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends those over the age of two should include fat-free and low-fat dairy products in their diet.

The authors questioned this stance, and wrote in the study: "International guidelines that recommend reduced-fat milk for children might not lower the risk of childhood obesity."

Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead author of the review and a pediatrician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada, said in a statement cow's milk is a major contributor of dietary fat for many children in the U.S. and Canada.

"In our review, children following the current recommendation of switching to reduced-fat milk at age two were not leaner than those consuming whole milk," he said.

But he pointed out all of the studies he and his colleagues examined were observational, "meaning that we cannot be sure if whole milk caused the lower risk of overweight or obesity."

"Whole milk may have been related to other factors which lowered the risk of overweight or obesity," he said. "A randomized controlled trial would help to establish cause and effect but none were found in the literature," said Maguire.

The World Health Organization describes childhood obesity as "one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century," with over 41 million children under the age of five estimated to be overweight in 2016.

The CDC considers it a "serious problem" in the U.S., which puts children at risk of poor health. Some 13.7 million, or 18.5 percent of children and adolescents aged between 2 to 19-years-old, are obese in the U.S..

Last month, a separate team of scientists looked at the issue of children's health from the angle of sugar intake. They found almost two-thirds of babies and 98 percent of toddlers eat foods which contain added sugar every day.

The nationally representative study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found yogurt, baby snacks and fruit juice are among the top sources of sugar for infants and toddlers.

Study co-author Kirsten A. Herrick, of the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, commented at the time that research suggests children over the age of 2 who eat sugar are more likely to be obese, as well as have cavities, asthma, high blood pressure and cholesterol and fats in the blood.

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A stock image shows a girl drinking from a glass of milk. Getty