Should Children Drink Milk?

With all of the options and misinformation available, clients may come to you every now and then with the question: Should kids drink milk? Here’s how I would approach forming an answer grounded in the body of science:

Milk is recommended by health and wellness organizations and experts for children and adolescents.

Milk’s unique nutrient package delivers essential nutrients that are important for children during growth and development. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported that moderate evidence shows that consumption of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, particularly in children and adolescents. This led to the current recommendation that children and adolescents:

  • Ages 9-18 years consume 3 cups per day
  • Ages 4-8 years consume 2.5 cups per day
  • Ages 2-3 consume 2 cups per day

It was also noted in these recommendations that it is especially important to establish the habit of drinking milk in young children, as those who drink milk at an early age are more likely to do so as adults. More recently, research points to some other health benefits of dietary patterns that include dairy foods or milk in childhood, including lower blood pressure linked to consumption of dairy foods and improved body composition later in adolescence with drinking milk.

And some may ask, is it really that difficult for kids to meet their nutrient needs without milk? This is an important question, so to better understand the importance of dairy foods, like milk, cheese and yogurt, in helping to achieve nutrient needs, National Dairy Council teamed with scientific experts to conduct diet plan modeling in order to study the impact of removing one serving of dairy, removing all dairy and replacing dairy with nondairy calcium sources on the diets of individuals 2 years and older.

What they found was that based on MyPyramid (now called MyPlate) dietary patterns, in order to match the amount of calcium provided by 1.8 daily servings of dairy foods (the average US dairy foods consumption), you would need about:

  • 5 ounces of calcium-fortified orange juice
  • About one-third cup (2.7 ounces) of soy beverage
  • 2 cup of cooked kale, spinach, collards and turnip greens
  • Less than 0.1 ounce of canned salmon and sardines with bones

And this is only considering calcium. The research suggests that significant dietary changes are required to replace nutrient contributions beyond calcium if dairy foods are removed from the diet. Furthermore, some of these foods are infrequently eaten by adult Americans, to say nothing of children who often can be more limited in the types of foods they are willing to try.

So the next time your clients ask if kids should drink milk, you can feel confident telling them that fat-free and low-fat milk contains nine essential nutrients that are important for children. As a parent, milk is absolutely an essential part of my kids’ diets, and they drink it with every meal and often as a refreshment beverage. So no matter what the birthday party menu was that day or how few bites of dinner were eaten, I feel good knowing that my kids were at the very least able to get the host of essential nutrients found in a glass of milk.