Importance of Milk During Preschool Years

Moms know their young children need milk for strong bones and teeth, but a new study suggests dairy foods like milk may also help lower the risk of childhood obesity. Researchers at Boston University found that youngsters who get adequate amounts of dairy foods daily seem to lower their risk of becoming overweight.

Skimping on milk and other dairy products in early childhood may lead to excess body fat during adolescence, according to the new study published in the journal Obesity. In fact, children who consumed the least amount of dairy before the age of 6 gained an extra 25 mm of under-skin fat and had a body mass index (an indicator of weight) about two units higher than the dairy-eaters. Children who had the recommended two servings a day had substantial lower body fat.

Researchers tracked the dairy intakes of preschool children (age 6 and younger) from 99 families enrolled in the Framingham Children's Study and continued to follow the children's growth and development through age 13. By early adolescence, children who had consumed the least amount of dairy (less than 1.25 servings per day for girls and less than 1.70 servings per day for boys) had gained significantly more fat than children who consumed the most dairy (more than 1.85 servings per day for girls and more than 2.35 servings per day for boys) during early childhood.

About one-third of U.S. children and teenagers - about 25 million kids - are either overweight or on the brink of becoming so, a situation leading to increased health risks and greater likelihood of obesity during adulthood. According to the researchers, this study suggests that "young children who fail to meet the recommended guideline for dairy intake may have an added risk for gaining excess body fat."

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three servings of lowfat or fat-free milk and milk products each day over the age of 8 and two servings for children ages 1 to 8. Milk is packed with nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, protein and potassium, important for growing children.

Moore LL, Bradlee LM, Gao D, Singer MR. Low dairy intake in early childhood predicts excess body fat gain. Obesity. 2006;14:1010-1018.