Reduced-fat milk may increase the risk of obesity in children

Children's Health

Most children in North America consume cows-milk every day. With the rising rates of obesity in the US, doctors recommend that children who are 2 years old and below should consume reduced-fat cows-milk to reduce weight gain and its associated complications. Now, researchers have found that children who drink whole milk have a 40-percent reduced risk of being overweight or obese compared to those who drink reduced-fat milk.

A team of researchers in St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada wanted to evaluate the link between cow-milk fat consumption and the risk of being overweight or obese in children aged one to 18 years old. The research, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed 28 studies from seven countries, involving about 21,000 children.

Children drinking cows milk

Image Credit: New Africa /

Lower risk of obesity

The researchers found that those who drank reduced-fat milk have a reduced risk of adiposity (weight gain) and are less likely to develop obesity. Also, 18 of the 28 studies showed that children who consumed whole milk had a 40 percent lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The researchers stated that that ten out of the 28 studies did not find a connection between consuming full-fat milk and a lower risk of becoming obese. However, they said that none of the studies have shown that drinking low-fat milk may lower the risk of obesity.

The findings of the study test current Canadian and international guidelines that recommend children to drink reduced-fat cow milk instead of whole milk when they reach the age of two onwards to lower the risk of obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children switch from whole-fat milk to reduced-fat milk at 2 years old while the NHS guidelines issued similar recommendations, but also it said that the fat in milk gives calories for children and contains important vitamins.

The majority of children in Canada and the United States consume cow’s milk on a daily basis and it is a major contributor of dietary fat for many children. In our review, children following the current recommendation of switching to reduced-fat milk at age two were not leaner than those consuming whole milk.”

Dr. Jonathon Maguire, Lead Author & Pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital

Further research will be needed to confirm the findings

It is possible that children who drink whole milk were leaner since they feel fuller after drinking than those who consumed the same amount of low-fat milk. Hence, they are less likely to snack on other food items, such as bread, biscuits, and chips, which can lead to obesity.

The researchers hope to further explore the cause and effect of whole milk and how it reduces the risk of obesity through a randomized controlled trial. They added that the studies they reviewed were all observational studies, which means that they are not sure if the whole milk caused the reduced risk of obesity or it may be related to other factors that helped reduce the risk of obesity.

“Randomized trials are needed to determine which cow-milk fat minimizes the risk of excess adiposity,” the researchers wrote on the study.

Obesity is a rising health threat

The number of overweight and obese infants and young children, between the age of 0 and 5 years old, has soared from 32 million across the globe in 1990 to a staggering 41 million in 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. Obesity in childhood has been linked to a broad range of serious health complications and a higher risk of developing illnesses prematurely, including diabetes and heart disease.

In the United States, childhood obesity is a serious problem. Among children and adolescents who are between 2 and 19 years old, the prevalence of obesity is 18.5 percent, equivalent to about 13.7 million.

Obesity has been tied to various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart attack, diabetes, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Journal reference:

Vanderhout, S., Aglipay, M., Torabi, N., Juni, P., da Costa, B., Birken, C., O’Connor, D., Thorpe, K., and Maguire, J. (2019). Whole milk compared with reduced-fat milk and childhood overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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