Confusion in the milk aisle: Whole milk or skim milk?

Highlights on the benefits of milk consumption.

One of the most talked about topics on NPR news last week was regarding a study that linked low-fat milk consumption to heavier weight children. Researchers from the University of Virginia found that kids who drank low-fat milk tended to be heavier compared to kids who drank whole milk. With these findings it is not surprising that NPR listeners have questions.Confusion in the milk aisle: Whole milk or skim milk?

Deciding between whole milk and skim milk is yet another topic to add to the long list of consumer confusion. One of the shortcomings of this new study was that researchers only looked at milk consumption, and had no knowledge of what kinds of foods these children were eating, or how many calories were being consumed each day. Without this information, it makes it difficult to draw conclusions, as well as provide recommendations.

Consumers should continue to follow the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics when giving milk to their children. Taking into account the personal preference of the child when it comes to drinking milk is also important. If whole milk is the only kind of milk the child will drink, then it might be a good idea to give the child whole milk. The bottom line is that regardless of whether kids are drinking whole milk, fat-free milk, chocolate or strawberry milk, the benefits of milk remains the same. Milk provides nine essential nutrients to help kids and teens grow healthy and strong.

Nine essential nutrients found in milk:

  1. Calcium helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth. It helps reduce the risk of stress fractures and osteoporosis later in life. Calcium also plays a role in promoting normal blood pressure.
  2. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium for healthy bones.
  3. Phosphorus works with calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones.
  4. Riboflavin works with our metabolism and helps convert food into energy.
  5. Protein helps build and maintain lean muscle.
  6. Potassium helps balance the fluids in our bodies and plays a role in normal blood pressure.
  7. Vitamin A is important for good vision, healthy skin and a healthy immune system.
  8. Niacin also works with our metabolism converting food into energy
  9. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy red blood cells and nerve cells.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) encourages all Americans to increase intakes of low-fat, fat-free milk or milk products to the recommended daily amounts. The DGA points out that milk is the number one food source for three of the four nutrients that are lacking in the American diet – Calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The recommended daily amounts are as follows:

  • 2 cups for children 2- to 3-years-old
  • 2 1/2 cups for children 4- to 8-years-old
  • 3 cups for those nine years and older

It is important to establish a habit of drinking milk as a child, as studies show that those who consume milk at an early age are more likely to consume milk as adults.

For more, read Debunking dairy food myths from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for youth in schools that provide education on the benefits of low-fat and fat-free dairy options also. More information can be found at

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