There's a line in a Gilbert and Sullivan song that suggests 'skim milk masquerades as cream' - and new research from the University of Virginia Medical School suggests they may have been on to something.
The report published this week in the online Archives of Disease in Childhood (a division of the British Medical Journal) shows that the average weight of children who drank 2% milk or full fat milk was lower than that of children who drank skim or semi-skim milk, even after taking into account other factors.
Until now, paediatricians have tended to recommend that all children drink low fat or skim milk after the age of 2 years to reduce their saturated fat intake and to reduce the risk of excess weight gain. But this new study suggests that the evidence to support this view is mixed and that the health outcomes of different milk options might be more complex.
The study involved looking at the milk consumption of 10,700 children at 2 and 4 years of age. Additional detail sought when the children were 4 included how much and how often they drank various types of milk (eg. flavoured, soy, full fat etc) as well as fruit juice, cordial, soft drinks and sports drinks so researchers could calculate the fat and sugar intake from these sources.
While the significant majority of children drank whole or 2% milk, across both age groups children who drank skim or semi-skim milk were heavier. The study also found that a child who was not overweight or obese at age 2, who regularly drinks skim or semi-skim milk, has a 57% more likely to become so by 4 years of age.
The researchers point out that it is possible these children may have gained more weight had they not drunk skim or semi-skim milk, but it also suggests it does not restrain weight gain. This could be because 2% or full fat milk may lead to a feeling of fullness and reduce the appetite for other fatty or calorie dense foods.
Rather than recommending low fat milk, the researcher suggest that it may be more effective to emphasise other weight-targeted strategies with a stronger evidence base, such as reducing the intake of sugar, the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and increasing exercise.