Healthy Weight: Results from Studies in Children and Adolescents

Dairy consumption may help children and adolescents achieve a healthy weight and body composition. 

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  • Children and adolescents who consume dairy products are more likely to have a better body composition and are less likely to be overweight or obese;
  • Substituting sugar-sweetened beverages with milk and milk products may help reduce weight.

The evidence

A 2013 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and observational studies evaluated the association between dairy intake and adiposity among preschoolers, school-age children and adolescents in developed countries.1

  • Among adolescents, dairy intake was associated with reduced adiposity.
  • Among preschool and school-age children, there was no association between dairy intake and adiposity.

A randomized controlled trial examined the effects of substituting sugary drinks with alternative beverages (water, milk and diet drinks) on body weight gain among 366 Danish children aged 2 to 6 years. The trial lasted 1.5 years.2

  • The substitution of 100 g/d of sugary drinks with 100 g/d of milk was associated with reduced BMI and body weight (-0.16 kg).

In a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies, the long-term association between dairy intake and the risk of childhood obesity was investigated. Ten studies comprising 46,011 children and adolescents with an average 3-year follow-up were included.3

  • Each additional serving per day of dairy products was associated with a 0.65% reduction in the percentage of body fat and 13% lower odds of childhood overweight/obesity.

The association between milk fat consumption and body mass index was examined in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Birth Cohort, which is a prospective representative study of preschool children in the U.S.4

  • Compared to those who drank 2% or whole milk, 2- and 4-year-old children who drank 1% or skim milk were more likely to be overweight or obese.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2005–2008), Keast et al. examined the relationship between dairy and yogurt consumption and the risk of obesity in U.S. children aged 8 to 18 years.5

  • Total dairy consumption was inversely associated with subscapular skinfold thickness.
  • Yogurt consumers had a lower prevalence of overweight or obesity, lower BMI-for-age, lower waist circumference and smaller subscapular skinfold thickness.


Dairy consumption in children and adolescents may have a beneficial effect on body weight and composition.

Studies among children suggest that displacing sugar-sweetened beverages with milk products, including flavoured milk, is associated with improvements in body weight.

Studies suggest that high-fat versus low-fat dairy products may have different effects on body weight, with high-fat dairy products having a more favourable impact.

Additional research is needed to assess the role of different milk products in helping children and adolescents achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Further investigation will also help shed light on the role of high-fat versus low-fat dairy products in weight and body composition in children and adolescents.

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