Scientists in America have suggested that increased consumption of food containing calcium may provide more benefits than just helping to strengthen people's bones. It is now being suggested that increased calcium intake can help with weight loss.

Connie Weaver of Purdue University told delegates at the Tropicana-organised From Grove to Glass - Nutrition for the 21st Century conference in Florida that a study carried out by her Food and Nutrition Department had shown a correlation between calcium intake and body weight. This assumes however that people are eating at or below the mean calorie level associated with maintaining a steady weight. Trying to counterbalance the effects of overeating by simply raising calcium levels will not work, Dr Weaver said.

The result was the by-product of a two-year examination of 18-31 year-old-women which set out to measure the relationship between bone density and calcium intake. Dr Weaver said that when the body weight statistic first appeared she hoped it would "go away." However, further examination and experiments from different researchers suggested the validity of the observation.

Dr Weaver added that it is not yet possible to identify whether dairy calcium is solely responsible or whether calcium from other foods and supplements also contributes. However, she noted that most calcium tends to be consumed from dairy sources.

The conclusion that calcium on its own is not enough to provide weight loss, and needs to be consumed as part of a sensible overall diet, was in keeping with the conference as a whole. Researchers outlined in detail the suitable balance required in an everyday diet to gain maximum nutritional benefit from food, while saying there was no one "magic bullet" which people could eat to solve all their health problems.

While it may not be headline-grabbing, delegates were told that variety, balance and moderation are the keys to eating for health, rather than following the latest spectacular claims. Nevertheless, it was also pointed out that eating the right kinds of food in the right quantities can go a long way towards helping to prevent a number of common diseases.

By Hugh Westbrook, correspondent