Whether calcium from dairy foods can help control weight and body fat in adolescent girls will be the focus of a new study at Creighton University. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded the University $2.34 million for the five-year study.
Over the next three and one-half years, Creighton researchers will recruit 275 girls between the ages of 13 and 14.
"Our goal is to determine whether increasing the intake of dairy foods to recommended levels (1,300 milligrams for teenagers) decreases gain in body fat," said principal investigator Joan Lappe, Ph.D., R.N.* During adolescence, girls tend to increase body fat more than they increase muscle mass, so this is a good time to intervene."
In recent years, numerous studies have shown that higher calcium intake, particularly from dairy foods, can help control weight gain in adult women. Lappe said that adequate calcium in the diet is thought to decrease the amount of fat made by fat cells and increase the burning of fat.
However, not all studies have shown a positive effect of calcium on weight, Lappe noted. In addition, "no rigorous studies" have been conducted in adolescents, she said. The Creighton research will be the first large-scale, clinical study to test this effect with adolescent girls.
"It's an important topic to study," Lappe said. "Overweight is epidemic in adolescents and leads to overweight as adults. Girls tend to have lower calcium diets than boys - partially due to the fear that dairy foods will cause them to gain weight.
"However, numerous studies have shown that consuming recommended levels of dairy products does not lead to weight gain. Calcium intake is particularly critical during adolescence, because it is the time when young people are developing a large portion of their adult bone mass. Thus, increasing calcium intake at the recommended levels in these girls will provide benefits to their bones as well as a potential benefit to their weight control."
To be considered for the study, participants must be in good health, above the 50th percentile Body Mass Index (BMI) for girls of similar age and at least 1.5 years post-menarcheal (after the first menstrual flow). Participants will be offered a stipend for their participation.