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Saturday, 24 August, 2002, 00:13 GMT 01:13 UK
Parents warned over milk-free diets
Milk is just one source of calcium
Parents whose children do not drink milk have been urged to seek expert advice to ensure they are receiving enough calcium.

It follows a study by researchers in New Zealand which found that children who did not drink cows milk had weaker bones and were shorter than those who did.

Many children are allergic to cow milk or have a lactose intolerance which means they are unable to digest it.


Things like tofu, tinned fish, green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium

National Osteoporosis Society
However, experts say parents should make sure these children get their daily recommended levels of calcium from other sources, such as green leafy vegetables or tinned fish.

Ruth Black and colleagues at the University of Otago examined the cases of 50 non-milk-drinking children.

The children were white and were on average six years of age. Most had stopped drinking milk after the age of one.

Weaker bones

The researchers compared their daily calcium intake, bone mineral density, skeletal size and stature with those of 200 white children who regularly drank milk.

All of the children who did not drink milk were found to be generally healthy. However, the researchers found that almost one in three were overweight or obese. This is because many drank fruit juices or fizzy drinks instead.

They were also significantly shorter in stature, had smaller bones and a lower total-body bone mineral content compared to the other children.

Just four of the 50 children who did not drink milk had adequate intakes of calcium.

There were also more than three times likely to have fractured their arm in the previous year.

The study also revealed that half of the children who did not drink milk did not abstain for health reasons.

Rather, they simply did not like the taste or family members did not offer it to them.

Three out of four had a family member who also avoided cow milk.

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors said their study highlighted "major problems" in the health of children who did not drink milk.

They urged parents of such children to get expert advice to ensure they received the daily recommended intake of calcium.

"Ideally, a full dietary assessment of children who avoid milk consumption seems warranted to help identify possible nutritional deficiencies or excesses," they said.

"It seems prudent to advise parents of all children who do not drink cow milk that they should seek professional nutritional advice to help optimise their children's bone health."

Other options

A spokeswoman for the UK's National Osteoporosis Society said there were a wide variety of foods which provided alternative sources of calcium.

Speaking to BBC News Online, she said: "Things like tofu, tinned fish, green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.

"There are also a number of products on the market now which have extra calcium, such as orange juice."

See also:

27 Apr 00 | Health
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