Children who switch to drinking low-fat milk reduce how much saturated fat they consume, but don't actually lose weight, Australian researchers have found.

The study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at 145 children aged four to 13 who either replaced their dairy products with low-fat varieties for six months or got advice about reducing screen time instead as a control.

Children in the low-fat group seemed to compensate by taking in more energy from other foods, the researchers found.

"Advice to parents to change to reduced-fat products was effective in reducing children's saturated fat intakes but did not alter energy intakes or measures of adiposity," conclude Gilly Hendrie of Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization Food and Nutritional Sciences in Adelaide and Rebecca Golley of the University of South Australia.

During the study, nurses interviewed the kids and parents on their dairy and eating habits at the beginning, and then after three and six months. The participants' blood was drawn and their body mass index (BMI) and waist circumferences were measured.

Regular-fat dairy foods decreased from 88 per cent to 14 per cent of dairy intake in the low-fat group.

Saturated fat intake was 13.3 per cent in the low-fat group compared to 16.6 per cent for the others. Cutting back on saturated fat is recommended to prevent cardiovascular disease.

The findings could be welcomed by families trying to modify their diets to reduce saturated fat intake, said Prof. Paul Nestel, a cardiovascular nutritionist with Baker IDI in Melbourne.

"Under those circumstances, it might be more convenient, but not essential, if the kids over the age of four can take the same milk or low-fat yogurt out of the refrigerator."

The Canadian Pediatric Society's Caring for Kids website recommends offering one per cent or two per cent milk after a child turns two years old, and waiting until a child is at least five years old before offering skim milk.

The study was funded in part by Dairy Australia.

With files from the Australian Broadcasting Corp.