Children 10–18 years

Drink milk for better health

Fonterra’s announcement that it will sponsor free milk in schools is good news for the future health of young New Zealanders.

When this scheme last operated between 1937-67, at a time of milk surplus, studies at the time reported improvements in the height and weight of New Zealand children. Unfortunately at the time the milk was often left at the school gate in the sun or in warm corridors which did nothing to inhance it’s image or palatability. Fonterra’s decision to also supply refrigeration for the school milk scheme will no doubt improve its acceptibility to children.

Calcium intakes of New Zealanders are poor

The memory of having to drink warm, fatty milk that tasted “off” is one of the reasons many over 50 year olds give Dietitian’s for why they no longer drink milk. This may help to explain why the calcium intakes of some New Zealanders are inadequate.

  • The MOH Nutrition Survey 2008/9 has found that 59% of New Zealanders (45% males and 73% females) do not have an adequate intake of calcium.
  • Milk is a good source of calcium yet the survey found it only contributed 27% of calcium consumed.
  • The median usual daily intake was 919mg for males (RDI’s for men 15-44yrs is 1000mgs, 800mg from 45-65+yrs) and 745mgs for females (RDI’s 15-44yrs 1000mg,45-65+yrs 1500mg, pregnant and breastfeeding 1200mgs).
  • The National Nutrition Survey of Children in 2002 found that only boys aged 7-10yrs manage to consume sufficient calcium to meet their recommended daily intakes (RDI’s). The remaining age groups are deficient. This is particularly evident as they enter their adolescent years. Girls appear to be deficient  at every stage of their lives.

Breaking down the barriers to drinking milk

If we are to improve the calcium intakes of New Zealanders we need to break down some of the barriers to consumption.

Here are a few of the other reasons that people give Dieitian’s for not drinking milk and some possible solutions to their problems:

  1. They dislike the taste or have bad childhood memories:
    A fresh view of milk is needed because as people (particularly women) age their need for calcium increases. Many of the new low fat milks feel lighter on the palate and are easier to digest than standard milk. Adults might be persuaded to try taking their milk as a trim latte in the afternoon or milkshake or as a trim hot chocolate drink at bedtime.
  2. People fear milk is fattening:
    This is no longer considered to be true and some research (read on) has sort to prove that calcium enriched milks can reduce weight faster than not drinking milk at all.
  3. Some people worry about their cholesterol levels:
    For those needing to lower blood cholesterol and reduce body weight, drinking low fat, calcium enriched milks will also speed this process.
  4. Some people have concerns over food allergies or lactose intolerance.
    People who are lactose intolerant lack the lactase enzymes necessary to breakdown the lactose sugar in milk. While they maybe able to tolerate small (30ml) amounts of cow’s milk in a cup of tea, and also can tolerate cheese and yoghurt (as these are treated with lactobacillus during processing) they may experience bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea after drinking a whole glass of milk. These people should use calcium enriched lactose free milks, soy or rice milks.
    For those people who are intolerant of the proteins in milk (casein and whey) and exhibit symptoms such as respiratory, skin or gastro intestinal upsets or headaches then they should once again try the calcium enriched varieties of soy, rice, oat or almond milks that are now available.
  5. The cost of milk is a real concern:
    This is why Fonterra’s free milk in schools scheme is an important step towards introducing milk to children. With so many other beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks and smart drinks available to young people it is hoped that introducing free milk early will enable children to grow up learning about the importance of milk to health and how to value it.
  6. Some are confused by too much choice and are unsure which milk types are suitable for different age groups:
    For more information read Lea’s presentation to the NZIAHS forum 2010
  7. Many people are unaware of milks importance to health.
    While most New Zealanders are aware that milk contains calcium the MOH surveys above prove that this knowledge does not lead onto us drinking sufficient milk to meet our daily needs. Milk is promoted on the basis of bone health but there are many other health benefits that should be promoted.

 The health benefits of drinking milk

  1. Milk is a “complete food”
    It naturally provides the main macronutrients protein (casein and whey) fat and carbohydrate (lactose) that we need for good health. While not high in iron, milk is a good source of B group vitamins, minerals and water.
  2. Bone, dental and joint health
    The calcium found in milk is important for the health of bones, muscles and cartilage. Calcium supplements can increase blood levels of calcium endangering heart health, whereas the protein in low fat milk aids calcium uptake by bone making the drinking of low-fat, calcium enriched milk a better health alternative.
  3. Weight Control
    Despite the advent of low fat dairy products there is a strong public perception that milk and milk products contribute to weight gain. Research is now refuting this and suggesting that it may infact aid weight loss.
  4. Metabolic Syndrome
    Metabolic syndrome is a combination of disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  The consumption of 600mls or more of milk/day and diary products was been found to markedly reduce metabolic syndrome.
  5. Diabetes Mellitus
     Along with calcium and vitamin D, milk is an important source of magnesium which researchers have found decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  6. Milk is the new sports drink
    Sports science is hailing low fat milk as the latest “sports drink” aiding performance , recovery, muscle building, tissue repair and assisting the process of rehydration after exercise.

For more information read Lea’s presentation to the NZIAHS forum 2010

Practical ideas to improve milk intake

  • Add milk to cereals at breakfast time
  • Make milkshakes after school or work
  • Trim hot chocolate at bedtime
  • Trim latte’s for afternoon tea
  • Use milk in soups, milk puddings and custards
  • Drink flavoured milk after sports activities
  • Freeze milk in plastic bottles and put into childrens lunch boxs as a snack and to keep their lunch chilled.

If you are concerned about your own calcium intake and would like to check on the adequacy of your diet then contact us for an appointment and dietary assessment.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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