Not drinking cows' milk blamed for children's fractures

Children who avoid drinking cows' milk are twice as likely to fracture bones than their milk-drinking counterparts, say researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

In a world-first bone density study, a group of children between the ages of three and 10 years, who had avoided cows' milk for a period of four months or more, were examined. The research found that almost 50 per cent of the group had already suffered one or more fractures.

Postgraduate human nutrition student Ruth Black, under the direction of Professorial Research Fellow Ailsa Goulding, carried out the study which was funded by the Health Research Council and New Zealand Milk.

"We were surprised by the severity of the low density in the children we studied, by the high number of young children we saw who had already broken bones and by the fact that many were short and overweight, says Professor Goulding."

The short stature of the group was an unexpected finding. Several earlier studies have noted that milk supplementation is associated with height gain, while calcium deprivation may retard growth, says Professor Goulding. "Milk does contain active peptides which favour bone gain, so it may be a property of milk-avoidance, not just calcium deprivation, which contributes to the shorter stature and small bones of children who avoid milk."

The study is the first to measure bone density throughout the skeleton of a group of young children who have avoided cows' milk. Low density was found throughout the skeleton (forearm, hip, spine and total body) and many of the children had already broken bones after trivial falls, though the average age of the group was only six years.

Only eight per cent of the group met the daily guidelines for recommended calcium intake.

The study was unique in that any child who avoided milk was accepted, regardless of the reasons why. Half of the children studied reported suffering from allergy-like symptoms afte

Contact: Serena Gill
University of Otago

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