Our various national health organizations in the U.S. have long supported low-fat dairy for kids over the age of two. For many years now, I have thought this was a terrible idea, as full fat dairy is much healthier for all humans, and it is now coming to light (finally!) that there is little scientific evidence for kids to go low-fat or skim dairy. This is based on a new analysis of twenty-nine (29) peer-reviewed studies on the role of dairy and childhood obesity.
Currently, the guidelines from the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major US organizations recommend whole milk and full-fat dairy for children from one – two years of age. It’s the same in the UK and Australia. Government and medical professionals encourage parents to switch to low-fat or skim after 24 months in order to protect them from the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD). There is no evidence to suggest that this strategy works and further, it is a less healthy strategy, which makes it all that much worse.
Dairy is an important source of certain nutrients, including healthy fats for children and adults alike. Dairy foods provide calcium, protein, iodine, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and saturated fat.
The new study, which was recently published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, found that full-fat dairy products were NOT linked to weight gain, obesity or any other measure of CVD risk.
A similar analysis published in December found that kids who drink full-fat milk were less likely to be obese than those who drank the low-fat or skim milk.
These findings encouraged The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition to review the literature, and they came up with similar results. According to Dr. Tamara Hannon, Director of the Pediatric Diabetes Program at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana, “You can’t come to the conclusion that eating full fat dairy is associated with either excessive weight gain or increased cardiovascular risk factors because that’s just not what these studies find.”
“Whole fat milk may lead to higher satiety, and therefore smaller portions and similar calorie intake,” said Stanford professor of medicine Christopher Gardner, who directs nutrition studies at Stanford Prevention Research Center.
“I think the bigger questions are: Are either of them — whole or reduced fat — ‘good’ for you? And what you [or your child] would be drinking instead of milk?” said Gardner, who was not associated with the study. “If it’s milk versus soda, I would pick milk. If it’s milk versus water, I’d pick water.”
Additionally, a recent review by Harvard nutritionists Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. David Ludwig, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at the role of milk in bone health, cancer, weight gain and cardiovascular risk. Their findings, based on a review of cohort studies and randomized trials, do not show any clear effects that drinking full-fat milk increased body weight in children or adults.
Unless your child has a dairy allergy, please give them full-fat dairy. It is highly unlikely that the guidelines are going to change any time soon, because the government moves at a glacial pace in these matters. You need to do what’s best for your kids’ health. And that means full-fat dairy.