Girls who get enough dairy products in their diets may stay leaner than their peers, study findings suggest. Researchers found that among 323 nine- to 14-year-old girls in Hawaii, those who got more calcium from dairy sources tended to weigh less and have less fat around the middle than girls who ate less dairy. On the other hand, body weight tended to rise in tandem with soda intake.
The link between dairy intake and lower abdominal fat was particularly strong among girls of Asian descent, who made up 47% of the study group.
Since the 1960s, U.S. children's milk consumption has fallen off significantly, in favour of soda and sugary juices. The trend is thought to be one of the factors fueling the nation's ever-growing rate of childhood obesity and excess weight.
A number of studies, mostly in adults, have shown that calcium may be key in maintaining normal body weight and fat stores. One reason may be the nutrient's effects on hormones that help store calories as fat.
In the new study, calcium from dairy sources, but not non-dairy foods, was related to lower weight and less abdominal fat. This suggests that the dairy portion of the calcium intake is the key factor. It's possible that other nutrients in milk play an important role in energy balance.
Non-dairy sources of calcium include certain green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, fortified soy milk, and calcium added to orange juice and cereals.
The researchers found that the average calcium intake fell far short of the recommended level for children in this age group - 736 milligrams (mg) per day, versus the recommended 1,300 mg a day. When girls did get relatively higher levels of dairy calcium, though, it appeared to make a difference on the scale and near the waistline.
For reasons that are unclear, the effect on body fat was stronger for Asian girls than for white girls. They speculate that ethnic differences in which dairy products are usually consumed, or in eating habits - having small amounts of dairy throughout the day, for instance, rather than a single large serving-may help explain the finding.
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