Milk Fat Intake in Early Childhood and Outcomes in Adolescence

Mounting evidence indicates that dairy fat is not linked to adverse cardiometabolic or anthropometric health outcomes, contrary to certain dietary recommendations in favour of transitioning towards lower-fat milk in early childhood. To this effect, a 2022 prospective study of 796 children investigated the association between milk intake (fat content and frequency) and anthropometric and cardiometabolic outcomes later in adolescence.

Father pouring milk for his 2 young children

It is largely recognized that dairy products provide a wide range of nutrients that support growth and development. However, increasing doubt is being cast on the dietary recommendations that advise transitioning towards lower-fat milk around the age of 2 years, given that considerable evidence indicates that dairy fats have a neutral or potentially beneficial impact on body composition and cardiometabolic health. 

A prospective study of 796 American children assessed the frequency of milk intake and milk-fat content in early childhood (mean age: 3.2 years) and later collected anthropometric and cardiovascular health data in early adolescence (mean age: 13.1 years).1 In this study, young children drank milk an average of 2.3 times/day, with 63% of drinking whole or 2% milk and 37% drinking 1% or skim milk. Additional confounding factors in the multi-model approach included adjustments for the exposure of interest (milk fat content vs. intake frequency), the child’s age, body mass index (BMI), several factors related to maternal health, lifestyle habits (ex: sleep, television habits, metrics of dietary quality), and childhood BMI changes.

After adjusting for all confounders, the consumption of higher-fat milk (whole or 2%) in early childhood was associated with 40% lower odds of overweight/obesity in adolescence, when compared to lower-fat milk (1% or skim). However, the risk of overweight/obesity was not linked to the frequency of milk intake. No association was detected between milk consumption (fat content or intake frequency) and cardiovascular risk factors, a finding which was maintained in subgroup analyses.

These results support that, contrary to many dietary recommendations, lower-fat milk products do not have a protective effect on future adiposity or undesirable cardiovascular outcomes. As such, the authors suggest that counselling provided by pediatric healthcare providers targets more evidence-based recommendations to improve future health outcomes.

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