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Kids and Health Care: Milk and Dairy are Okay

Milk is certainly better for toddlers than soda. But some parents worry that too much milk and dairy products will make their kids fat. This worry is generally mistaken.

At a March 2004 meeting of the American Heart Association, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine reported that two servings of dairy food a day through childhood was linked to a substantial reduction in adolescent fatness.

Childhood dairy intake fell during the 1980s and 1990s, in part as kids' preferences shifted from milk to soft drinks. (During the same period, average annual soda consumption among young kids rose 300 percent.) But the shift also was caused by the impression that dairy products were fattening. "Adolescent girls in particular are concerned about eating dairy because they think it will make them fat," the Boston University group reported. But the group's research, based on the Framingham Children's Study, found just the opposite is true.

The researchers did frequent dietary surveys on 106 families with children and followed them an average of 12 years. They judged body fat by measuring the skin thickness on four parts of their bodies and found that kids who consumed less than two servings a day averaged about an extra inch of fat in a fold of skin, a surprisingly large amount. The average skin fold thickness was 75 millimeters; those who ate little dairy were 33 percent thicker.

Among other findings that the Boston University group reported: Kids who ate moderate amounts of fat -- between 30 percent and 35 percent of total calories -- weighed less than those who ate either more or less.

A good statistician would point out that moderate dairy intake might not cause better health. It might indicate a

generally well-balanced diet...which itself might indicate a more stable or supportive home life. Any of these factors might be the real reason for the healthier weight at adolescence.

Specific findings come and go, but the general conclusion that studies share is that kids' diets need to be more balanced than they are. A child shouldn't drink a soda every day -- and certainly not more than one. And he or she should eat some kind of fruit and some kind of vegetable with each meal.

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