New research presented this week at the American College of Nutrition annual symposium reports that calcium from Milk Group foods may help children maintain a healthy body fat percentage during the critical years of body fat development. This, they claim, could help reduce the risk of childhood obesity, which affects one in four American children. Researchers at the University of Utah looked at 50 healthy children with low calcium intakes, between the ages of 2 and 8 years, and randomly divided them into a dairy or non-dairy group. Both groups had similar caloric and fat intakes. The dairy group was supplemented with 4 servings of milk and Milk Group foods daily, or the equivalent of 1,200 mg. of calcium. At the start of the study, total body fat between the two groups was similar, but after 6 months, the children in the non-dairy group had gained more body fat, while the children in the dairy group retained similar body fat levels from those at the start of the study. "Our results indicate that dairy foods may be beneficial in helping children maintain their body fat levels before it begins to skyrocket out of control," said co-author Gary M, Chan, Professor of Pediatrics with the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. "Maintaining healthy body fat levels during these early years is extremely important, as it helps set the stage for healthy fat levels during the adult years, and reduces the risk of obesity." Other recent studies have also shown Milk Group foods to be helpful in reducing the risk of obesity among children. Researchers at the University of Tennessee analysed the diets of preschool children over a 3-year period and found children with higher dairy/calcium intake, had lower body fat than those children with lower dairy/calcium intakes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 per cent of Americans are either overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hardening of the arteries and some types of cancer, making obesity a growing concern for many public health experts. This concern was addressed at this week's American College of Nutrition symposium, where researchers took a closer look at weight management, including the relationship between obesity and health risks, dietary factors that may influence the development of obesity, and the relationship between calcium intake and obesity. "All the emerging research linking dairy calcium to weight loss is really exciting news for Americans of all ages who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight," added Krautheim. "This research shows that they can actually add food to their diet, rather than just taking it away."