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Dairy and Chronic Disease Risk

Whole foods and dietary patterns that include milk and dairy foods may have a positive impact on chronic disease risk.

Milk and dairy foods provide benefits to people across the lifespan.

Milk and dairy foods provide benefits to people across the lifespan. For example, milk provides nutrients that are essential to bone health and lean muscle development, while supporting the growth and development of children. The nutrients in milk, cheese and yogurt are similar, but the foods’ nutrient matrix, or the molecular structures that contain the nutrients, differ in ways that are still being understood. The nutrients in dairy foods work together to help the digestion, absorption and interaction of nutrients and other compounds within the body. Increasingly, scientific evidence links dairy foods to a reduced risk of certain chronic health conditions.


Rates of obesity among children and adults continue to climb. Research shows that consuming the recommended servings of dairy foods is linked to a reduced risk of childhood overweight and obesity. Childhood obesity is linked to an increased risk of obesity and chronic disease in adulthood. Adopting a healthy eating pattern during childhood may positively impact long-term health and well-being.

Metabolic Syndrome and Hypertension

Metabolic syndrome, the group of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal or triglyceride levels, increases a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A study of 147,812 individuals aged between 35 and 70 from 21 countries found that consuming at least two servings a day of total dairy versus no dairy consumption was associated with a 24% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, with an even greater risk reduction seen in those who consumed full-fat dairy. Similarly, two servings daily of total dairy was associated with an 11-12% lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

A growing body of evidence links the consumption of dairy foods, particularly yogurt, with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in adult populations. A recent large, 12-year prospective cohort study found an association between eating dairy foods (full-fat or low-fat varieties) more frequently with lower risk of prediabetes. Findings also showed an association between eating full-fat dairy foods more frequently and lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes among those who already had prediabetes.  

Heart Disease

Probiotic-rich dairy foods are of particular interest to researchers and scientists. Dairy foods have been fermented by populations around the globe for centuries. Over the past few decades, science has uncovered how the process of fermentation enhances milk’s functional health benefits. One such study looked at fermented compared to non-fermented dairy foods and risk of coronary heart disease. Adults in the study with the highest intake of fermented dairy had 27 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. 


Cancer is a leading cause of death in the U.S., and poor diet quality is known to be a risk factor for the disease. In fact, more than 80,000 new cancer cases in 2015 were associated with poor diet among U.S. adults. One study found that low consumption of whole grains and dairy and high intake of processed meats contributed to the highest association of diet-related cases of cancer. Other research found that dairy products decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.

Bhavadharini B, Dehghan M, Mente A, et al. Association of dairy consumption with metabolic syndrome, hypertension and diabetes in 147 812 individuals from 21 countries. BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2020; 8:e000826. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2019-000826 
Hruby A, Ma J, Rogers G, Meigs JB, Jacques PF. Associations of dairy intake with incident prediabetes or diabetes in middle-aged adults vary by both dairy type and glycemic status. The Journal of Nutrition. 2017;147(9):1764-1775. 
Kang K, Sotunde OF, Weiler HA. Effects of milk and milk-product consumption on growth among children and adolescents aged 6–18 years: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(2):250–261. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy081   
Koskinen TT, Virtanen HEK, Voutilainen S, Tuomainen T, Mursu J, Virtanen JK. Intake of fermented and non-fermented dairy products and risk of incident CHD: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr. 2018;120(11):1288-1297. doi:10.1017/S0007114518002830 
Meat, fish and dairy products and the risk of cancer. World Cancer Research Fund website. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/meat-fish-dairy. Published 2018. Accessed May 28, 2020.  
Zhang FF, Cudhea F, Shan Z, et al. Preventable cancer burden associated with poor diet in the United States. JNCI Cancer Spectrum. 2019;3(2):pkz034. doi.org/10.1093/jncics/pkz034