A pint of milk a day could protect obese children from developing diabetes, according to new research.
Cow’s milk contains nutrients that lower insulin, the hormone that controls glucose, between meals, the study showed.
This reduces the risk of ‘metabolic syndrome’ – a cluster of disorders including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and fats, excess belly fat and low ‘good’ cholesterol. Having any three can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The team found overweight and obese youngsters who had at least two half-pint servings of cow’s milk were less prone to type 2 diabetes – the form linked to being overweight.
Children who drank less than half a pint a day had significantly higher levels of ‘fasting’ insulin – the level between meals – than those who drank at least a pint.
Children who drank less than half-a-pint a day had significantly higher levels of ‘fasting’ insulin – the level between meals – than those who drank at least a pint, the Texas researchers found
Dr Michael Yafi, of the University of Texas Health Science Center, said: ‘Our findings indicate obese children who consume at least the daily recommended amount of milk may have more favorable sugar handling and this could help guard against metabolic syndrome.
‘Worryingly, only one in ten young people in our study were consuming the recommended amount of milk.’
One in three American children are overweight or obese – which is equivalent to about 24 million. In the UK, four in 10 children aged five to 19 are obese or overweight, amounting to more than 4.5 million.
The World Health Organization has described it as a ‘crisis’ in child health leading to heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Dr Yafi and colleagues analysed the daily milk intake of 353 obese children aged three to 18 over a two-year period between December 2008 and December 2010.
On average, just a tenth of the children with an average age of 11 reported drinking the daily recommended milk intake of one-and-a-half pints or more.
Girls drank less milk than boys, but no difference in intake was noted by ethnicity.
The study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna found fasting insulin levels were about 50 percent lower among children who drank at least a pint of milk a day – a sign of good health.
This was after taking into account other factors including race, ethnicity, gender and level of physical activity.
Consumption of sugary drinks and fruit juices – along with their glucose levels. insulin sensitivity and the type of milk drank based on fat content – were also considered.
More than half of children who reported drinking less than half-a-pint a day had high insulin levels – compared to about a quarter of those drinking at least a pint.
There was no connection between milk consumption or blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
The bottom line, the researchers said, is that parents should not be scared of giving their children milk, even if they are overweight.
Dr Mona Eissa, one of the principal investigators, said: ‘Parents have started to look at milk not as a good thing and they are wary of it.
‘The message to them is not to be scared of milk, or to limit its consumption, and to encourage children of all ages to keep drinking it freely.’
‘The findings that milk has a healthy effect on high insulin level, which may lead to type 2 diabetes, are significant, particularly given the growing prevalence of this condition among children nowadays.
‘The link between sugary drinks and childhood obesity is well-documented. Vitamin D deficiency has also been connected to this.
‘By contrast, from a preventive perspective, our pilot study suggests that milk intake is not only safe but also may protect against development of metabolic syndrome
‘Yet fewer children are drinking enough, especially with growing concerns over fat content and dairy intolerance.
‘Only a small percentage of children are actually intolerant to milk so parents shouldn’t be afraid of milk or cut back on it.’
She added since the sample size was relatively small and included mostly Hispanic children, future studies should be done to confirm findings.
‘Nonetheless this still presents reasonable grounds to stick with the recommended daily amount and to make friends again with milk.’
Dr Yafi added: ‘Many studies have linked sugary drinks to childhood obesity.
‘In contrast, our pilot study suggests milk intake is not only safe but also protective against metabolic syndrome.
‘We should encourage our children – especially those with obesity who are at higher risk of insulin resistance and poor glycemic (blood sugar) control – to consume the recommended daily amount of milk.’
He said at least a third of Americans are thought to have metabolic syndrome – while one in three US children and teens are overweight or obese.
Previous studies have shown that milk protects against metabolic syndrome and diabetes in adults.
But studies investigating the effect of milk consumption on metabolic health and metabolic syndrome risk factors in obese children are scarce.
To investigate this further Dr Yafi and colleagues assessed daily milk intake and its association with levels of fasting insulin levels – the hormone that stabilizes blood sugar and is a biomarker for metabolic syndrome risk.
The young participants were all obese and were attending a pediatric weight management clinic.
A high insulin level is a sign of insulin resistance or prediabetes – and can also signify metabolic syndrome.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise two to three cups of low fat (1 percent or 2 percent) milk a day for children over the age of two.
A cup is about half a pint.
The NHS says the fat in milk provides calories for young children and also contains essential vitamins.
But for older children and adults, it also advises lower fat milks to protect against becoming overweight.
It says 1 percent fat or skimmed milk still contain the important nutritional benefits of milk, but are lower in fat.