Kids who drink non-cow’s milk are shorter than peers, study finds

TORONTO — From almond to soy, when it comes to the drink that does a body good, supermarkets continue to offer shoppers quite a number of milk options. It’s a decision that might just impact a child’s development.

That’s because whether a child drinks cow’s milk can significantly increase — or decrease — their height, a new study finds.

Strawberry splashing in milk
Whether a child drinks milk from a cow or opts for the more modern alternatives may have a significant impact on their height, a new study finds.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto looked at 5,034 children between the ages of two and six, hoping to find the health effects of consuming traditional dairy from cattle versus dairy alternatives.

Of the children examined, 13 percent drank alternative milk options on a daily basis, while the vast majority — 92 percent — consumed cow’s milk.

The researchers’ findings were striking: for each serving of non-cow’s milk consumed a day, a child was four-tenths of a centimeter shorter than average for their age.

Meanwhile, a single daily serving of cow’s milk was linked to a two-tenths of a centimeter increase in height, the researchers found.

The disparity only widened among groups that overwhelmingly favored one or the other: comparing a three-year-old who drank three cups of non-cow’s milk a day to one who drank three cups of cow’s milk a day showed a 1.5 centimeter height difference.

This difference in height would be tantamount to a child going from the 50th percentile in height to the 15th.

Perhaps most importantly, drinking cow’s milk in conjunction with alternative dairy products did not prevent a child from being shorter than average.

The researchers do not have a definitive explanation for their findings, but believe that children who don’t consume cow’s milk may have insufficient protein and fat intake, leading to stunted growth.

“The nutritional content of cow’s milk is regulated in the United States and Canada, while the nutritional contents of most non-cow’s milks are not,” explains lead researcher Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at the hospital, in a press release. “The lack of regulation means the nutritional content varies widely from one non-cow’s milk product to the next, particularly in the amount of protein and fat.”

For example, two cups of cow’s milk meets 100 percent of a three-year-old’s daily recommended protein intake; two cups of almond milk only fulfill a quarter of what’s recommended.

With the influx in alternative milk options, the researchers argue that their consumption may have actual adverse consequences.

The study’s findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.