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Issue: 758   Date: 03/03/2005
Dairy foods have powerful impact on
weight management for children and adults

Lynda Johnson, RD, nutrition and health education specialist
University of Missouri Extension

Calcium has been known for its important role in bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis. Now studies indicate there is a growing body of evidence that shows a relationship between calcium intake and maintaining a healthy body weight.

The dairy-weight loss connection
A recent study in Obesity Research shows that adults on a reduced-calorie diet who ate three to four servings of dairy foods each day lost an average of 24 pounds, significantly more than those who also cut calories but consumed few or no dairy foods. The study also indicated that the three to four servings of dairy foods help people lose more fat from the abdominal region, when compared to those who just cut calories or took calcium supplements. Key nutrients in dairy foods including the calcium and protein appear to improve the body?s ability to burn fat.

Researchers working to identify the mechanism by which calcium impacts body weight revealed that, as dietary calcium intake increases, calcium levels within fat cells decrease. This leads to a decrease in fat production, and an increase in fat breakdown at the cellular level. This shift in fat metabolism may result in less fat storage and a reduction in body weight.

Evidence seen in both children and adults
?The fact that three to four servings of dairy foods may help with weight loss, in addition to building strong bones, is great news. People can choose to drink milk, or eat cheese or yogurt to supply the body with calcium,? stated Lynda Johnson, RD, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension. ?Research shows that dairy foods signal the body to burn more fat,? Johnson said. The relationship between calcium and body weight has been observed in numerous clinical studies. Here are some study highlights:

When children and adults consume higher levels of calcium and dairy foods, they tend to have less body fat. The most significant impact can be seen at the highest level of calcium intake.
The impact of calcium on weight loss is even greater when it?s supplied through low-fat dairy foods, rather than from calcium supplements.
Research suggests that long-term high dairy calcium intake may increase the rate at which dietary fat is burned.
A New Zealand study found that children who regularly avoided drinking milk, and did not eat calcium rich foods or take calcium supplements, had lower bone density and weighed more, two factors which increase risk for bone fracture.

Make Three-a-Day a habit
According to behavior experts, it only takes 21 days to start building a new health habit. Since June is National Dairy Month, this makes the perfect time to encourage your family to eat three servings of dairy foods each day. Parents and kids can choose from of number of different snack options, ranging from low-fat flavored milks to yogurt to string cheese. Start your day with a fruit smoothie, or add a slice of cheese to your sandwich, enjoy pudding for dessert, or reach for a glass of cool, refreshing milk instead of a soft drink. See if you can enjoy three to four daily servings of dairy each week.

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