Studies: Eating Recommended Dairy for Bone Health Not Linked to Weight in Teens

  • Article
  • June 27, 2017

On average, teens are not eating recommended amounts of dairy foods. However, recent research suggests that eating recommended amounts of dairy foods doesn’t cause unnecessary weight gain among young people.

A recent clinical study of 13-14-year-old overweight girls with low (~600 mg/day) calcium consumption examined the effects that increasing low-fat and fat-free milk and yogurt to provide 1,200 mg of calcium (~3 servings/day) has on body weight and fat over 12 months without restricting calories. Results showed no difference in body weight or percent body fat between the dairy group and the control group, who ate their usual lower-calcium diet, even though the dairy group reported eating almost 200 more calories per day.  

A second 18-month study among boys and girls aged 8-16 years (both normal weight and overweight) compared the effects of eating three extra servings of dairy foods per day vs. their usual diet (<800 mg calcium/day) on bone mass and body composition. Results showed increased dairy consumption had no effect on measures of body fat or composition. The researchers also found no effect of higher dairy consumption on measures of bone mass, which the authors attribute to the modest difference in calcium consumption between groups. Both groups increased their calcium consumption over the course of the study. The control group consumed over 1,000 mg of calcium per day, which is close to the recommended amount for this age group (1,300 mg/day), while the dairy group consumed 1,500 mg/day. These findings help support that consuming adequate calcium is important for normal bone growth and development.  

Nonetheless, some teens may still believe they shouldn’t drink any beverage containing calories, regardless of the nutrients it provides. National nutrition surveys for decades have shown that adolescents, especially girls, consume less calcium and eat fewer servings of dairy foods than recommended.  Among U.S. high school students surveyed in 2015, only a little over a third drank even 1 cup of milk per day.  

The dairy food group (milk, cheese and yogurt) is an important source of calcium and vitamin D, two key nutrients for growth and development. The findings from these two clinical trials adds to the greater body of science supporting that eating recommended amounts of dairy foods can help children and adolescents meet their nutrient requirements, improve overall diet quality and support bone health without negatively impacting weight.