Is whole milk worse for kids than low-fat milk? Study puts end to dairy debate

Focused On Health

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JOONDALUP, Australia — Whole or low-fat milk? That’s the nagging question countless grocery shoppers ask themselves each day. Interestingly, however, new research from Edith Cowan University concludes that for kids, there is little to no difference between the two options. Researchers report whole fat milk is just as good for children as low fat milk.

To reach these conclusions the research team tracked 49 children between the ages of four and six for a total of three months. The kids were randomly assigned to one of two experimental groups: one was given low-fat dairy to consume each day while the other cohort was given whole dairy products. Shopping was eliminated from the equation as well, as scientists had the dairy products delivered to participants’ homes each night to ensure the process wasn’t muddied by price considerations.

Importantly, all the delivered food goods were prepared in “plain packaging.” In other words, participants had no idea if they were consuming low-fat milk or whole milk products.

To measure the impact of the dairy goods, the research team assessed each child’s obesity, body composition, blood pressure, and blood biomarkers. Interestingly, kids across both groups generally took in roughly the same amount of daily calories. While kids assigned to the low fat dairy group of course gained fewer calories from dairy goods, they usually compensated by eating more of other food categories.

Overall, both groups showed no significant differences in reference to both cardiovascular health and obesity.

“It had previously been thought young children would benefit from low fat dairy products due to their lower levels of saturated fats and lower density of energy, in turn helping avoid obesity and risk of associated cardiometabolic diseases,” says study study leader and ECU Associate Professor Therese O’Sullivan in a media release. “Our results suggest healthy children can safely consume whole fat dairy products without increased obesity or adverse cardiometabolic effects.”

“With consideration of our results and previous research, future revisions of dietary guidelines should consider recommending children aged two and over can consume either whole fat or reduced fat dairy,” she adds.

According to dietitian and PhD candidate Analise Nicholl, if nothing else, the new report settling the debate on whole milk vs. low-fat milk should make parents’ shopping decisions a bit easier. “This evidence-based approach would help simplify parents’ dairy choices and allow children to consume dairy according to their individual preference,” she comments.

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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