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Calcium, Dairy Products and Preventing Childhood Obesity


Updated February 07, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Glass of Milk

Milk is a great source of protein and calcium.

Michael Illuchine

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics's Evidenced Analysis Library, there is some evidence of a relationship between childhood obesity and kids who don't get enough calcium or who have a low intake of dairy products. Milk and dairy also contain conjugated linoleic acid, which some experts have connected to weight loss.

Serving your kids foods rich in calcium is important for kids who's bones are still growing, plus calcium is important for normal muscle and nerve function. While the studies done in this area are not completely conclusive, some researchers believe that meeting calcium recommendations will also help your child maintain a healthy weight.

Healthy calcium-rich foods include low-fat and non-fat milk and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese, dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli, and other foods like sardines, salmon (with the bones), tofu and baked beans. You can also buy foods that are fortified with calcium such as breakfast cereals and calcium fortified orange juice, soy milk and bread.

Get Calcium into Your Kids' Diets

Kids should get three servings of low or non-fat milk, dairy products or calcium-fortified foods every day. Milk can be served over cereal in the morning or used as a beverage any time of day. You can give your child yogurt as an after school snack, which is not only an excellent source of calcium, but may be a good source of probiotics as well.

If your kids can't or won't eat dairy products, there are other ways to get plenty of calcium into their diets. Offer the dark green vegetables as part of a child's five servings of fruit or vegetables every day. Tofu can be added to a stir-fry as a good source of calcium and protein. Baked beans are also a good source of calcium that many kids like.

Watch out for extra calories. Be careful to watch portion sizes when you give your kids cheese; while cheese is an excellent source of calcium, it's also calorie-dense. One serving is about the size of a pair of dice (about 1.5 ounces).

Choose breakfast cereals wisely. There are many vitamin and mineral fortified cereals sitting on the shelves of the grocery store, but many of them contain too much added sugar. Choose unsweetened cereals and add fresh fruit or just a light sprinkling of table sugar. The same idea goes for yogurt; choose plain yogurt and add fruit, nuts and a little bit of honey. Some kids' yogurt snacks are loaded with sugar and artificial colorings.

If your child balks at eating his vegetables, it's okay to top them with a tablespoon of his favorite sauce or dressing, but don't use a lot of these toppings because they're usually high in calories. Always read the labels to get an idea of the serving size and the number of calories.

Some kids just don't like the taste of plain milk, but love chocolate or strawberry flavored milk. These flavorings are good because they help kids drink more milk, but they may be bad because they add calories from sugar and most have artificial ingredients that some parents don't want. But be careful, natural ingredients aren't always better than artificial ingredients. You can serve flavored milk to your kids, but you'll need to consider the extra calories.

If you're struggling with a picky eater, you may wish to give your kid a daily calcium supplement. Some kids don't like to swallow pills, however there are liquid and chewable flavored calcium supplements available. Always follow the directions on the label unless you speak with a health care provider.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. "Child Nutrition and Adiposity." Accessed September 8, 2010.

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