Adolescent girls who consume a moderate amount of dairy products are not likely to have a higher body mass index or experience an increase in percentage of body fat, concludes a new study.
The study, published in the September 2003 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, followed a group of girls in the US from pre-adolescence through adolescence, and claims to be the first in children to analyse the relationship between dairy food consumption and body weight status over time.
"Teenage girls can maintain a healthy weight and include dairy products," said Aviva Must, associate professor of community health at Tufts University and one of the study's authors. "Dispelling that myth is important because the potential health benefits of the natural calcium in dairy products, particularly its role in building bone mass, are so significant in adolescent girls. The window for maximising bone mass occurs only in adolescence and doesn't occur again."
Dairy foods are the primary source of calcium for children and adolescents. In the US the daily recommended intake for calcium in girls aged 12-18 years is 1,300 mg - the equivalent of four servings of milk, cheese or yoghurt daily.
Research has shown that getting the calcium required to build bone mass in adolescence may help prevent osteoporosis. However, it is thought that nearly nine out of 10 teenage girls do not get the calcium they need, and this deficiency is largely driven by low dairy intake.
"Many young women cut out dairy for fear of fat. This study shows that they can keep milk, cheese and yoghurt in their diets and maintain a healthy weight," said Deanna Rose, aregistered dietitian at the National Dairy Council. "Dairy foods are the best natural sources of calcium and provide a unique nutrient combination of nine essential nutrients. Parents and health professionals should encourage teens to enjoy 3-4 servings of dairy a day, which is as easy as having a slice of cheese, a glass of chocolate milk and a container of yoghurt."
Decreased calcium intake in children has also been attributed to decreased milk consumption resulting from popularity of sweetened drinks and the shift to eating meals outside the home. US researchers recently highlighted a worrying increase in the cases of rickets in children in North America thought to be due to this move away from the consumption of dairy products and most importantly milk, which is an excellent source of vitamins D and C.