Does Milk Do a Body Good?
Whoever has done the marketing for cow milk deserves some kind of award. Probably the most iconic commercial from my teenage years was the “Pardon me, guys” one. Remember that? This dude is watching a video of himself as a scrawny high school freshmen who gets pushed around by some bigger kids. He starts drinking milk and by senior year he’s about 6’3, 240. He walks out of the locker room in a muscle shirt and says “Pardon me, guys” to the same guys who used to bully him (who are the same size because they didn’t drink enough milk). He then rewinds that part of the video and watches it again, which is awesome. See the link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXF5VcEmXG8
So does your kid need milk? Let’s talk about it a little bit. I think milk’s fine – particularly during the toddler years, it’s a reliable source of protein, fat, calcium, and vitamin D when the rest of the diet can be pretty spotty. Fat is especially important until two since your kid’s brain is still growing quickly. And vitamin D is a big deal in the Pacific Northwest where I live, since the only other good source is the sun.
But I’m usually more concerned about my patients drinking too much milk rather than not enough, for three reasons:
1. It could make your child anemic – milk itself is low in iron, which your kid needs to make new blood cells, and it also makes it harder to absorb iron from other sources.
2. It could make your child pickier – your kid needs a set amount of calories per day. Pounding a sippy cup of milk is quick and lets her get back to her playing more quickly, but the more milk she gets the fewer calories she needs from other healthy foods.
3. It could make your child constipated
A 2015 study of nearly 9000 four year-olds found that kids who drank three or more 8 oz servings (8 ozs) of milk per day were more likely to be taller but also overweight than kids who drank two servings or less per day. (1) The old wisdom is that milk is good for your bones, but research is mixed on whether drinking milk significantly reduces the risk of fractures in kids – physical activity (putting healthy pressure on your bones) seems to be a bigger factor.
So I think a reasonable amount of milk, no more than 16 ozs per day, is fine for kids and could have some benefits. I discourage parents from offering more than that, and I DON’T think it’s a big problem if your kid gets no milk at all. Just make sure that they get a vitamin D supplement and consider a calcium supplement if they don’t have enough other sources (I use chewable TUMS for my kids).
Pardon me, guys. I’ve got to get going.
1. Milk intake, height and body mass index in preschool children. DeBoer MD et al. Archives of Disease in Childhood 2015;100:460-465. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2014-306958