Objective: Numerous nutrition policy statements recommend the consumption of 800 to 1500 mg of calcium largely from dairy products for osteoporosis prevention; however, the findings of epidemiologic and prospective studies have raised questions about the efficacy of the use of dairy products for the promotion of bone health. The objective of this study was to review existing literature on the effects of dairy products and total dietary calcium on bone integrity in children and young adults to assess whether evidence supports (1) current recommended calcium intake levels and (2) the suggestion that dairy products are better for promoting bone integrity than other calcium-containing food sources or supplements.
Methods: A Medline (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD) search was conducted for studies published on the relationship between milk, dairy products, or calcium intake and bone mineralization or fracture risk in children and young adults (1-25 years). This search yielded 58 studies: 22 cross-sectional studies; 13 retrospective studies; 10 longitudinal prospective studies; and 13 randomized, controlled trials.
Results: Eleven of the studies did not control for weight, pubertal status, and exercise and were excluded. Ten studies were randomized, controlled trials of supplemental calcium, 9 of which showed modest positive benefits on bone mineralization in children and adolescents. Of the remaining 37 studies of dairy or unsupplemented dietary calcium intake, 27 studies found no relationship between dairy or dietary calcium intake and measures of bone health. In the remaining 9 reports, the effects on bone health are small and 3 were confounded by vitamin D intake from milk fortified with vitamin D. Therefore, in clinical, longitudinal, retrospective, and cross-sectional studies, neither increased consumption of dairy products, specifically, nor total dietary calcium consumption has shown even a modestly consistent benefit for child or young adult bone health.
Conclusion: Scant evidence supports nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralization.