Dietary calcium intake and adiposity in children and adolescents: Cross-sectional and longitudinal results from IDEFICS/I.Family cohort

Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2019 May;29(5):440-449. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2019.01.015. Epub 2019 Feb 5.


Background and aims: Studies in children and adolescents suggest that higher dairy consumption may exert a protective effect on adiposity. However, only few studies examined the association between dietary calcium intake and body mass measures with conflicting results. We evaluated the association between total dietary calcium, calcium from dairy and non-dairy sources and anthropometric indices in a large European cohort of children and adolescents.

Methods and results: As many as 6,696 children belonging to the IDEFICS study were eligible for the cross-sectional analysis (Boys = 51%; age 6.0 ± 1.8 years; mean ± SD). Of these, 2,744 were re-examined six years later (Boys = 49.6%; age = 11.7 ± 1.8 years) in the framework of the I.Family study. The exposures were the baseline energy-adjusted total, dairy and non-dairy calcium intakes measured by a validated 24-h dietary recall. Multivariable linear regression was used to determine the association between calcium intake and z-scores of anthropometric indices (body mass index, BMI; waist circumference, WC; sum of skinfolds, SS; fat mass index, FMI) at baseline, and their variation over the 6 years follow-up. The association of dietary calcium with the incidence of overweight/obesity was also assessed. At baseline, an inverse association between total calcium intake and all the adiposity indices was consistently observed in boys, while only SS and FMI were significant in girls. The prevalence of overweight/obesity decreased significantly (P < 0.0001) across tertiles of calcium intake, in both sexes. Over the follow-up, boys with higher baseline calcium intake value showed significantly lower increase in BMI, WC and FMI z-scores, while in girls only a lower increase in WC z-score was observed. Only in boys, the risk to become overweight/obese decreased significantly across tertiles of calcium intake. Similar results were observed by analyzing only dietary calcium from dairy, while no association was observed between non-dairy calcium and adiposity indices.

Conclusions: We showed in a large cohort of European children and adolescents that dietary calcium intake may play a role in the modulation of body fat in developmental age. The association between dietary calcium and adiposity indices was driven by dairy calcium, while no effect was observed for non-dairy calcium intake. The existence of a sex-related difference in the association deserves further investigations.

Keywords: Anthropometry; Children; Cohort study; Dairy; Dietary calcium; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dairy Products*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / diagnosis
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / physiopathology
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Prevalence
  • Protective Factors
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors


  • Calcium, Dietary