Whole Milk Better Than Low-Fat for Kids' Vitamin D Status

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For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Institutes of Health, and Health Canada have recommended that young (over 2 years old) children be given low-fat milk* — ostensibly to help fend off the development of overweight and obesity.

But a new report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition presents data that just may make these organizations think again.

In addition to providing protein, dairy milk is also the source of much of the vitamin D in young children's diets. A group of Canadian researchers wished to investigate whether consumption of whole versus low or reduced- fat milk seemed to affect the vitamin D status of children. In addition, they looked at whether the type of milk kids drank was linked to their BMI — would those drinking whole milk be fatter?

Dr. Shelley M. Vanderhout from the University of Toronto and colleagues studied over 2700 preschool-aged children (12-72 months old) in a cross-sectional analysis. Information about the kids' food and beverage consumption was elicited from parents or other caregivers,  the children were weighed and measured, their BMIs were calculated, and blood samples were taken so that vitamin D levels could be measured.

Analysis of the data found a statistically significant positive association between the milk-fat percentage and the level of vitamin D in the children's blood. Whole milk consumers had higher median vitamin D levels than did those who drank 1 percent (low fat) milk. In addition, they also found that the children who drank whole milk actually had lower BMIs than those drinking the 1 percent version.

The authors postulated that the results might reflect the facts that: 1)the higher fat content of whole milk might improve the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamin D; and 2)the higher fat content of the whole milk might be more satiating and thus the children drinking it would be less likely to consume more calories from other foods or beverages.

While these results are intriguing, it must be remembered that this is a cross sectional study — that is, the children involved were examined only once, and we do not know if the type of milk would make any difference if they were followed for a longer period of time. So while it's too early to expect any changes in advisory statements from organizations concerned with children's diet and health, it's an interesting addendum to the knowledge about the effects of dietary fat on children's well-being.


*Whole milk: about 3.8 percent of calories from fat

Reduced fat milk: about 2 percent of calories from fat

Low fat milk: about 1 percent of calories from fat