Study: Children who drank whole milk had lower risk of being overweight or obese compared to kids who drank reduced-fat milk

By Jennifer Stranges

A systematic review and meta-analysis led by St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto found children who drank whole milk had 40 per cent lower odds of being overweight or obese compared with children who consumed reduced-fat milk.

The research, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed 28 studies from seven countries that explored the relationship between children drinking cow’s milk and the risk of being overweight or obese. None of the studies – which involved a total almost 21,000 children between the ages of one and 18 years old – showed that kids who drank reduced-fat milk had a lower risk of being overweight or obese. Eighteen of the 28 studies suggested children who drank whole milk were less likely to be overweight or obese.

The findings challenge Canadian and international guidelines that recommend children consume reduced-fat cow milk instead of whole milk starting at age two to reduce the risk of obesity.

“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,” said Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead author of the review and a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital.

“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. Maguire, who is also a scientist at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, next hopes to establish the cause and effect of whole milk and lower risk of obesity in a randomized controlled trial.

“All of the studies we examined were observational studies, meaning that we cannot be sure if whole milk caused the lower risk of overweight or obesity. Whole milk may have been related to other factors which lowered the risk of overweight or obesity,” Dr. Maguire said.

“A randomized controlled trial would help to establish cause and effect but none were found in the literature.”

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit www.unityhealth.to.