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Low-fat Milk Better for Babies?

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Guest blogger Dr. Cara Natterson reacts to the American Academy of Pediatrics' new low-fat milk recommendations for some babies and toddlers.

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There have been a series of articles and recommendations published this summer that all focus on the same theme: childhood nutrition. A few weeks ago, the AAP released new guidelines suggesting that some children as young as 8 years old may be candidates for cholesterol-lowering medicines. There have been articles about the ongoing obesity epidemic among American children and the sedentary lifestyles of teens.

This week, the debate comes down to babies and toddlers. Now at issue is whether whole milk with its high-fat content is good for young children or not. On the one hand, fat was thought to be an important ingredient in brain development. On the other, fat and cholesterol consumption in babies who are predisposed to heart disease may serve as the launching pad for a lifetime of poor health.

So how should a parent make heads or tails of this? The most recent recommendation clearly distinguishes children with a family history of cholesterol, obesity, or heart disease from all others. The children in the
first group should be started on lower-fat milk at one year, which is the age when cow's milk is introduced in the first place. Children with none of these risks can still drink whole milk until age 2, when the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that kids make the switch to 2%, 1%, or skim milk. (There are some exceptions--like kids who are very thin or have reasons to burn through calories quickly.)

Does it really matter? We don't know. Until large numbers of children make this shift and are followed over time, we won't really be able to tell whether the intervention reduces a child's likelihood of becoming obese or having high cholesterol or heart disease. It makes good sense, but the data is not there yet. But what we do know is that it's not only about milk. This summer has proven that it is time we take a stern look at the way childhood habits are affecting adult health. In order to grow a healthy child, parents must look at the entire diet--and this includes milk, proteins, vegetables, refined sugars, fats, and so on. Just as important, parents must work to keep their children active and exercising, integrating this into their daily lives from toddlerhood until teen-dom. If good eating and vigorous exercise become an automatic part of everyday life, today's children should grow up to be much healthier adults.

To ask Dr. Cara a question, click here.

Dr. Cara Natterson, author of Your Toddler: Head To Toe, is a pediatrician and mother of 2. To buy a copy of her book, click here


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12 comments so far | Post a comment now
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