Many teenage girls avoid dairy products because they think dairy makes them fat. However, new research dispels that myth.

According to a study in the September issue of the Journal of Obesity, dairy consumption by adolescent girls is not associated with a higher body mass index or an increase in body fat percentage.

The study, conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, followed 196 girls from pre-adolescence through adolescence. It is the first study in children to analyze the relationship between dairy-food consumption and body weight status over time.

“Many young women cut out dairy for fear of fat. This study shows that they can keep milk, cheese and yogurt in their diets and maintain a healthy weight,” said Deanna Rose, a registered dietitian with the National Dairy Council.

The calcium in dairy products also helps build bone mass during the teenage years. “The window for maximizing bone mass occurs only in adolescence and doesn’t occur again,” said Aviva Must, a Tufts University researcher and one of the study’s authors.

The daily recommended intake of calcium by 12- to 18-year-old girls is 1,300 milligrams — the equivalent of four servings of milk, cheese or yogurt daily.

“Parents and health professionals should encourage teens to enjoy three to four servings of dairy a day, which is as easy as having a slice of cheese, a glass of chocolate milk and a container of yogurt,” adds Rose.

For more information on the benefits of dairy foods in managing weight, check out the Healthy Weight Education kit at this Web site:

Dairy Management Inc.