All Milk is Not Created Equal

Whole fat milk consumption associated with leaner children, new research found.

Many parents recognize the nutritional benefits of milk. But with grocery stores stocked with all kinds of milk—from whole to skim to strawberry-flavored—some parents are left wondering what kind of milk is best for their kids. New research dives in.

According to a press release issued by St. Michael’s Hospital, a new study suggests that children who drink whole milk are leaner and have higher levels of vitamin D than children who drink low-fat or skim milk.

Vitamin D is essential for kids’ health because it helps the body use calcium and phosphorus to make strong bones and teeth, according to the National Cancer Institute.

During the course of the study, Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s hospital, and his team studied 2,745 children between the ages of two and six who attended well-child visits.

To study the effects of milk the team surveyed parents, calculated body mass index (BMI) and took blood samples to measure the children’s vitamin D levels.

The team found that 49 percent of the children studied drank whole milk, 35 percent drank two-percent milk, 12 percent drank one-percent milk and four percent drank skim milk. Less than one percent drank a combination of the four types of milk.

According to the press release, the children who drank whole milk had an average BMI score that was .72 units lower than those children who drank one or two-percent milk.

Dr. Maguire speculated that this difference could be because children who drink whole milk feel fuller than those who drink low-fat or skim milk. Though a positive correlation can’t be made, previous studies showed that in the past 30 years childhood obesity has tripled while consumption of whole milk has halved.

In addition to a link between higher BMI with lower-fat milk, the study also found that children who drank three cups of one-percent milk per day had comparable levels of vitamin D to children who drank only one cup of whole milk per day.

The reason for this is clear: milk fat, contained in whole milk but absent from skim, naturally contains vitamin D.

"Children who drink lower fat milk don't have less body fat, and they also don't benefit from the higher vitamin D levels in whole milk," Dr. Maguire said in the press release. "It's a double negative with low-fat milk."

The full study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The authors disclosed no financial information or conflicts of interest.

Read more about when you can have too much calcium.