Young Americans' Diets Deficient in Dairy Products and Calcium

October 5, 2007

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Adolescents don't get enough milk or calcium in their diets, and those who do consume dairy products tend to favor high-fat varieties, researchers found.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., Oct. 5 -- From the time American children are four years old, they are generally deficient in the consumption of dairy products, researchers found.

What's more, even at ages two and three, the children tend to go for high-fat varieties of dairy products, reported Sibylle Kranz, Ph.D., R.D., of Pennsylvania State University here, and colleagues, online in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The deficiency in the daily intake requirement of calcium begins at age eight, they added.

In their analysis of a nationally representative cohort of children, the majority of milk and dairy product intake was not low- or nonfat, the researchers said.

"This intake pattern is reason for concern, because whole milk consumption does not provide additional nutritional benefits over nonfat milk consumption, although it has a higher total energy density," they wrote.

Replacing high-fat milk products with nonfat milk products has not been shown to prevent childhood obesity, but it might help, Dr. Kranz and colleagues wrote.

"In particular, the widespread distribution of unsweetened flavored nonfat milk might help increase calcium consumption in the U.S. children while decreasing total energy intake," they suggested.

Nondairy products, such as fortified orange juice and soy, contain calcium. However, because calcium is less bioavailable in these products, the Institute of Medicine recommends that children meet their daily requirement for calcium through dairy foods, the researchers said.

They analyzed calcium and dairy intake among children reported in the 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The survey included a 24-hour food recall interview, which was self-reported by adolescents ages 12 to 18 and completed by or with parents' assistance for younger children.

Overall, 7,716 participants had complete sociodemographic, anthropometric, and dietary intake data for the analysis. This included 907 children ages two to three years, 1,735 ages four to eight, 2,282 ages nine to 13 years, and 2,792 ages 14 to 18.

Calcium intake from dairy averaged about 850 to 1,000 mg across the age groups with a significant difference in total consumption only between the four to eight and 14 to 18 age groups (P