Dairy Foods: Stronger Than the Alternative For Children

By the time many children reach kindergarten they consume fewer nutrient-rich dairy foods than recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Further magnifying the problem, they increasingly turn to less nutritious beverage choices.

ROSEMONT, Ill. (PRNewswire) — By the time many children reach kindergarten they consume fewer nutrient-rich dairy foods than recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.1,2 Further magnifying the problem, they increasingly turn to less nutritious beverage choices as they move into their teen years, an important period for building healthy bones.3,4,5 Evidence for the three* or more servings of dairy foods each day, as well as the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health, are supported by recent publications from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dairy foods' (milk, cheese and yogurt) have a unique ability to provide these important nutrients many children are lacking, and are diverse enough to fit three servings into many nutrient-dense dietary patterns, from a Mediterranean diet to Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and MyPlate eating plans.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) clinical report, "Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents," published in the October 2014 issue of Pediatrics states6:

  • Cow's milk intake in childhood and adolescence is associated with high bone mineral content and reduced risk of fracture in adulthood.6
  • This may be due to cow's milk's unique package of bioavailable nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans acknowledge as nutrients of public health concern.1
  • Children four to eight years of age require two to three servings of dairy products per day, and adolescents require four servings.6
  • Vegetables provide bioavailable calcium, but in some vegetables (i.e., spinach, beans, collard greens, rhubarb) the calcium is bound by oxalates making it difficult to rely on vegetables alone to meet daily calcium requirements without consuming substantial quantities.6
  • Milk alternatives, such as soy- or almond-based beverages, may have a reduced amount of bioavailable calcium per glass, even when fortified with calcium.6 

Further exploring challenges with fortification, "Consumption of Non-cow's Milk Beverages and Serum D Levels in Early Childhood," published in the current issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, assessed the vitamin D levels and eating habits of 2,821 healthy children ages one to six and found children who drank only non-cow's milk were more than twice as likely as children who drank only cow's milk to have lower vitamin D levels.7 This could be due, in part, to the fact that cow's milk is required to be fortified with vitamin D, yet adding vitamin D to non-cow's milk is voluntary.7 Cow's milk is the number one food source of vitamin D in diets of US children and adults, alike.8,9   

"Children are our greatest national resource. It is critical to ensure a nutritious and sustainable food system that allows our future generations to grow and flourish. These publications further emphasize we simply cannot understate the important role of dairy foods in children's diets," states Jean Ragalie-Carr, RDN, LDN, President of National Dairy Council. "Adding just one more serving of milk, cheese, or yogurt each day is an easy way to help close nutrient gaps and nourish our growing population."

As the definition of health evolves to address the health of our nation today and the future, the National Dairy Council has responded to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's (DGAC) request for input. These comments can be found at NationalDairyCouncil.org. Additional information on dairy's role in a sustainable diet can be found here.

*Three servings of low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products are recommended for those ages 9 and older by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

About National Dairy Council
National Dairy Council® (NDC), the non-profit organization funded by the national dairy checkoff program, is committed to nutrition education and research-based communications. NDC provides science-based nutrition information to, and in collaboration with, a variety of stakeholders committed to fostering a healthier nation, including health professionals, educators, school nutrition directors, academia, industry, consumers and media. Established in 1915, NDC comprises a staff of registered dietitians and nutrition research and communications experts across the country. NDC has taken a leadership role in promoting child health and wellness through programs such as Fuel Up to Play 60. Developed by NDC and the National Football League (NFL), Fuel Up to Play 60 encourages youth to consume nutrient-rich foods and achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. For more information, visit www.NationalDairyCouncil.org or follow @NtlDairyCouncil on Twitter.

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. Food Patterns Equivalent Intakes from Food: Consumed per Individual, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2009-2010. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/80400530/pdf/fped/Table_1_FPED_GEN_0910.pdf.
  3. Fulgoni VL, Quann EE. National trends in beverage consumption in children from birth to 5 years: analysis of NHANES across three decades. Nutr J 2012;11:92-111.
  4. Popkin BM. Patterns of beverage use across the lifecycle. Physiol Behav 2010;100(1):4-9.
  5. United States Department of Agriculture: Economic Research Service. Economic Research Report Number 149: Why Are Americans Consuming Less Fluid Milk? A Look at Generational Differences in Intake Frequency. May 2013.
  6. Golden NH, Abrams SA. Clinical Report. Optimizing bone health in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014; 134: e1229 -e1243 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2173).
  7. Lee GL, Birken, CS, et al. Consumption of non-cow's milk beverages and serum D levels in early childhood. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2014 (doi: 10.1503/cmaj.140555).
  8. O'Neil CE, Keast DR, Fulgoni VL, et al. Food sources of energy and nutrients among adults in the US: NHANES 2003–2006. Nutrients 2012;4(12):2097-2120.
  9. Keast DR, O'Neil CE, Fulgoni VL, et al. Food sources of energy and nutrients among children in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2006. Nutrients 2013;5(1):283-301.