For years, Americans have turned to margarine, skim milk and low-fat yogurt in their efforts to stay slim and healthy. Gradually we learned that margarine, with its high saturated-fat content, is not a “healthier” substitute for butter, but we continued to believe dairy fats locically would lead to obesity.

That assumption, however, is coming under question. A National Public Radio (NPR) piece recently cited two major research reports that indicate diets including full-fat dairy products could actually reduce the likelihood of obesity.

The NPR broadcast cites one study reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, in which researchers collected baseline data on 1,782 men aged 40 to 60, and followed up with 1,589 of the men 12 years later. The researchers found a low intake of dairy fat at baseline was associated with a higher risk of developing obesity, while a high intake of dairy fat was associated with a lower risk of central obesity as compared with medium intake.

The other study cited in the NPR broadcast was a meta-analysis of 16 observational studies published in the European Journal of Nutrition. The researchers found that in 11 of 16 studies, high-fat dairy intake was inversely associated with measures of obesity. Studies examining the relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and metabolic health reported either an inverse or no association. Studies investigating the connection between high-fat dairy intake and diabetes or cardiovascular disease incidence were inconsistent. They concluded that observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and their findings suggest that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.

NPR also cited a report from last year, regarding research published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, in which researchers found low-fat milk was associated with more weight gain over time in children.

Access the audio report from NPR.