A new study conducted by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Canada suggests that children, who consume non-cow’s milk, will have a shorter stature than their counterparts, who consume cow’s milk.
The findings raise concern about the nutritional content of cow’s milk alternatives. Additionally, the study showed that greater intake of non-cow’s milk, the shorter the children are likely to be.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends not giving children less than 1 year old cow’s milk, because it lacks the nutrients required for normal growth and development. Also, children at that age have difficulty digesting milk due its fat and protein content.
Cow’s milk is beneficial for children 1 year and older, its high content of protein, calcium and fat supports bone and brain health and development.
Previous studies have linked the consumption of cow’s milk in childhood with a taller stature. The new study supports the connection, after the findings reveal children, who consume non-cow’s milk are likely to have a shorter stature.
The research team examined data of 5,034 children between the ages of 24 and 72 months. The data originated from the cohort, Canadian Applied Research Group for Kids.
The daily intake of cow’s milk and non-cow’s milk was viewed carefully, as well as almond milk and soy milk.
Ninety-two percent of the participants consumed cow’s milk on a daily basis, another 13 percent consumed non-cow’s milk daily.
When comparing the two groups – children who consumed cow’s milk and children who consumed non-cow’s milk, children who consumed non-cows milk were on average shorter than their counterparts. For every 250ml of non-cow’s milk consumed on a daily basis, the children were on average 0.4cm shorter.
For children who consumed cow’s milk daily, their height was on average 0.2cm greater.
When comparing a 3-year-old, who consumed three cups of non-cow’s milk daily and a three-year old who consumed three cups of cow’s milk daily, there was a height difference of 1.5cm.
A shorter-than-average height variance was also identified among children, who consumed a combination of non-cow’s milk and cow’s milk, demonstrating that the cow’s milk intake does not cancel out the connection between reduced height and non-cow’s milk.
The researchers did not set out to find the underlying mechanisms for the association of non-cow’s milk and a shorter stature. However, the researchers think that it may have something to do with the lower protein content in non-cow’s milk.
The researchers note that 16 grams of protein is included in cow’s milk, which is the daily recommendation for children 3 years of age. When comparing cow’s milk with almond milk, it has a slightly lower protein content. There are 4 grams of protein in two cups of almond milk.
“The nutritional content of cow’s milk is regulated in the United States and Canada, while nutritional contents of most non-cow’s milk are not,” says Dr. Jonathan Maguire, a researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital. “The lack of regulation manes that the nutritional content varies widely from on non-cow’s milk product to the next, particularly in the amount of protein and fat.”
Non-cow’s milk use is on the rise, because of perceived health benefits and potential food allergies. For this reason, the researchers believe that more emphasis should be placed on the nutritional content of cow’s milk alternatives.
“If products are being marketed as being equivalent to cow’s milk, as a consumer and as a parent, I would like to know that they are in fact the same in terms of their effect on children’s growth,” Maguire says.
The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on June 7, 2017.