Shunned by many as a source of artery-clogging cholesterol, calcium-rich dairy products consumed in childhood may in some cases add years to one's life, reported a study released Tuesday.
A 65-year follow-up to a 1930's survey of more than 1,300 families in England and Scotland showed that a diet high in milk, cheese and butter did not lead to higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, children with the largest intake of calcium from dairy enjoyed a lower death rate from strokes, according to the study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Heart disease risk factors begin in childhood, but evidence to date has been inconclusive as to whether dairy consumption at an early age helps or hurts.
Some experts have argued that the high fat content in full-butter dairy products contributes to heart problems later in life.
A team of researchers led by Jolieke van der Pols, a scientist at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, followed up with 4,374 people who took part as children in the late 1930s in a study of food consumption.
By 2005, 34 percent of them -- 1,468 individuals -- had died, 378 from coronary heart disease and 121 from strokes.
No evidence was found of a link between intake of dairy products and either of these causes of mortality.
Surprising, however, childhood intake of calcium -- mainly from milk and milk-derived comestibles -- corresponded to a lower rate of death by stroke.
"Furthermore, childhood diets rich in dairy or calcium were associated with lower all-cause mortality in adulthood," the study concluded.
The authors cautioned that further studies were needed to confirm the findings, which may result in part from other factors such as income levels and occupation.