Children who drink whole milk have lower obesity risk but the cause is unclear

Children who drink whole milk are less likely to be obese, according to a recent analysis, which suggests that common recommendations to drink low-fat milk could be misguided.

Researchers in Canada looked at more than two dozen studies on the relationship between drinking cow's milk and childhood obesity. Those studies covered almost 21,000 children between the ages of 1 and 18.

They found that children who drank full-fat milk (a.k.a. whole milk) had a 40% lower chance of being overweight compared with those who drank reduced-fat milk.

"The majority of children in Canada and the United States consume cow's milk on a daily basis and it is a major contributor of dietary fat for many children," Dr. Jonathon Maguire, the lead author of the review, said in a news release. "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."

The researchers noted that none of the studies showed that kids who drank reduced-fat milk had a lower risk of being overweight or obese.


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This review suggests that many health organizations' recommendations that kids drink low-fat milk may not actually be the best way to curb the obesity epidemic. The researchers said they believe whole milk makes kids feel fuller for longer, causing them to eat less overall.

But they also noted that the studies they analyzed were observational, so they can't be sure that drinking whole milk caused the risk of obesity to be lower.

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

The review's results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.