New study says kids who drink “alternative milks” are shorter

Child drinking milk with a straw

New research out of Toronto’s St Michael’s Hospital suggests that children who drink cow’s milk are taller than their plant-based milk, nut milk or other animal milk-drinking peers. It’s food for thought.

Moo-ving away from milk

Study lead author Dr Jonathon Maguire, wanted to delve further into the effects of non-cows milk on kids, considering their recent spike in popularity (often, but not always, due to food allergies and wellness trends).

“Many parents are choosing non-cow’s milk for their children, which may have lower nutritional content”, Dr Maguire explained.

“The lack of regulation means the nutritional content varies widely from one non-cow’s milk product to the next, particularly in the amount of protein and fat.”

Their research aimed to get to the bottom of any potential implications this move away from cow’s milk might be having and studied 5,034 children between the ages of 24-72 months.

 The findings suggest the more non-cow alternative milks a child drinks, the shorter they will be.

Significant height differences

There were some big differences in height between the cow’s milk drinkers and other milky kids.

For instance, the researchers found that the height difference for a three-year-old who drank three cups of non-cow’s milk compared to three cups of cow’s milk per day was a quite significant 1.5 centimetres, with the cow’s milk drinker being the taller of the two.

Overall, for each daily cup of non-cow’s milk they drank, children in the study group were 0.4 centimetres shorter than average for their age, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionpublished research.

Further, for each daily cup of cow’s milk they drank, children were 0.2 centimetres taller than average.

They also found that kids who drank a combination of cow’s milk and alternative milk/s were shorter than their exclusively cow’s milk peers.

This finding suggests adding some cow’s milk to a child’s diet did not reverse the association between non-cow’s milk consumption and lower height, Dr Maguire said.

Short and sweet?

Before you ponder whether having a shorter kid is really all that bad, it’s good to note that height is an indicator of general health in kids – and this is not a purely cosmetic concern.

“Height is an important indicator of children’s overall health and development,” Maguire confirmed, noting that cow’s milk used to be a trusty standby source of protein and fat and that this move towards almond milk, soy milk and the like needed closer scrutiny.

Why are they shorter?

The study didn’t delve further into exactly why the non-cow’s milk kids were shorter on average than those who drank cow’s milk, BUT the authors hypothesised that kids who drink non-cow’s milk might consume less dietary protein and fat overall than those who drink cow’s milk, resulting in less robust growth.

“Two cups of cow’s milk contains 16 grams of protein, which is 100 per cent of the daily protein requirement for a three-year-old child, according to the study. Two cups of almond milk beverage typically contains 4 grams of protein, which is only 25 per cent of the daily protein requirement for a three-year-old, who may not be receiving sufficient protein from other dietary sources,” Dr Maguire explained.

Obviously we need more research on this important and interesting topic, but these findings are food for thought indeed!

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