Switching to Low Fat Milk May not Reduce Calories or Weight

A May 2011 study has already changed what I tell parents about nonfat milk. Commonly, parents are counseled to switch their children from whole milk to low fat or nonfat milk by age 2 or 3, in an effort to reduce calories, reduce fat, and reduce the risk of obesity.

For years my take has been that if a child is drinking organic milk from cows grazing on pasture, and the child is otherwise eating healthy amounts of good food, then why not stick with whole milk – closer to the way it appears in nature? But if the child is already getting too many calories or too much fat in the diet already, then switching to nonfat dairy may be one of the easiest ways to cut out excess calories. Was I wrong?

Learn from Diet Soda

One would think that switching from full-calorie soda to diet soda would drop calories and weight, but some studies suggest that the artificial sweetness triggers people to make up those calories in other ways. Could the same thing be true for milk?

Putting it to the Test

Researchers studied 145 children, half who remained on whole fat dairy foods and half who switched to reduced-fat dairy foods. At the end of six months the investigators compared the BMI, waist size, calories consumed, foods consumed, and blood cholesterol of the two groups.

The two groups ate the same amount of calories overalll, both at the beginning and at the end. The low fat group did reduce their fat intake and their dairy calories, but made up for this by eating more carbs (not necessarily a better choice).

There was no difference in waist size or in BMI between the two groups.

Hendrie GA, Golley, RK. “Changing from regular-fat to low-fat dairy foods reduces saturated fat intake but not energy intake in 4-13 year old children.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 2011; 93(5):1117-1127.

Published on: May 13, 2011
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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What are the health risks of being obese?
Why are children who are obese treated differently?
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Hi Abigail,

These look like pretty specific question. Are you by any chance writing a paper?

Here are some articles Dr. Greene wrote that have many of your answers —
Childhood Obesity
Childhood Obesity and Quality of Life
The Downward Spiral of Obesity
Obesity and Diabetese
Childhood Obesity and Cancer

Hope these help!