The war on milk has shifted fronts. First it was sugar-laden chocolate milk, which parents and school administrators battled in recent years to remove from school-lunch menus. Now, it’s plain old moo that’s under fire.
On Thursday, a national doctors group petitioned the U.S. government to remove milk as a required food group from the National School Lunch Program, the federally assisted program that has provided lunch to millions of public school kids since 1946. The doctors’ reasoning: milk doesn’t help protect kids’ bones.
The promotion of milk to help build strong bones in kids is, “in effect, the promotion of an ineffective placebo,” writes the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in its petition [PDF]. “Milk is high in sugar, high in fat and high in animal protein” — all of which counters its purported benefits to bone health, the committee argues.
The PCRM notes that dairy products, including milk, are the No. 1 source of saturated fat in Americans’ diets. Drinking milk for the calcium it contains is therefore a losing strategy, especially since people can get their daily recommended calcium from other, more nutritious foods. And for millions of Americans who are allergic to milk — including 1.3 million children — or intolerant to the lactose it contains, drinking milk carries potentially severe health risks.
“Research has now made it abundantly clear that milk doesn’t build strong bones. Whether we are talking about children who are forming bones or older people who are trying to keep their bone integrity, milk doesn’t have a beneficial effect on either one.”
In March, a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine followed a group of 6,712 girls over seven years, tracking their diets and assessing their likelihood of stress fracture. The researchers found that neither calcium nor dairy intake was associated with a lower risk of such fractures. Similarly, 2003 data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 72,000 postmenopausal women for 18 years, found that milk drinkers were no less likely to suffer a hip fracture than those who didn’t drink the white stuff.