The study “Association between noncow milk beverage consumption and childhood height” has been the source of all sorts of sensational headlines from how cow’s milk is a great health food for kids, to perpetuating the dusty old myth that either breastfeeding or plant-based nutrition is unhealthy…
Human breast milk is nature’s most perfect human baby food, and every health authority urges everyone to eat more plant foods. Yet here we are, having to rest a case for the poorly-known triviality that these are the necessary and healthiest ways to feed children, and that the milk from a cow is perfect health food…only for her own calf – certainly not for humans.
What did the study actually find?
Could it be true that kids on cow’s milk grow taller?
Could it be that kids that are breastfed or fed a balanced plant-based diet are the ones that grow normally and that babies and people fed calf food have abnormal growths?
Do minor differences in height even matter? Shouldn’t we look at effects on overall health instead before we advise to eat/drink something?
What’s the untold story? How does dairy affect the actual health of children and of humans of all ages?
Summary of findings
- Observational studies on their own [especially on homogeneous populations] provide weak evidence and do not prove causality.
- The study shows no evidence that the final adults are taller.
- The study did not control for protein intake nor calories, which is a major flaw given the known effects of protein on growth.
- Other studies done on height and cow milk consumption find different results.
- Faster growth ≠ health
- Official recommendations recognise well-planned plant-based or vegan diet as healthful, nutritionally adequate, providing an advantage to prevent and treat certain diseases, and is suitable for all stages of life, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy and childhood.
- Do we really need to rest a case for breastfeeding? (that’s “noncow” milk too). Babies failing to breastfeed enough (human mother’s milk) are at put at high risks of serious health complications.
- Cow’s milk is perfect calf food, not human food, and particularly not weaned-off-human food. As a result, dairy causes a range of health complications from chronic illness, to auto-immune disease and more.
- Cow’s milk contains over 60 hormones (hormonal disruptors) from a large bovine.
- Cows grow 4 times faster than humans, everything in the hormones and much higher protein content of cow’s milk (compared to human milk) is designed to make a calf double size in 47 days, as opposed to 180 days in humans.
- Increased growth in children also comes with premature puberty and faster ageing, and higher risks of obesity and type-2 diabetes.
- The increased growth factors in humans from dairy is associated with increased cancer risk.
- Protein excess is also associated with higher cancer incidence.
Review of articles on dairy, child development, human height, necessary nutrition, and adverse health effects of dairy/animal protein.
Topic: Criticism of the study and gap between headlines and actual study
“For each daily cup of non-cow’s milk consumed, children were 0.16 inch shorter. By age three, those who drank three cups of non-cow’s milk per day were about 0.6 inches shorter than children who drank an equivalent amount of cow’s milk, but this finding wasn’t statistically significant.
Since cross-sectional studies look at relationships only at a single point in time, they are generally weak types of evidence. And this particular study provided no additional information about the diets of these children. It also didn’t differentiate among types of non-cow’s milk. These are two crucial factors, especially because the researchers suggested that the differences in height may have been due to differences in protein intake.”
Dr. Ginny Kisch Messina, MPH, RD
Topic: “How essential is mother’s milk?”
Human infants deprived of the advantages of human breast milk have:1
- Two to four times the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (crib death),
- More than 60 times the risk of pneumonia in the first three months of life,2
- Ten times the risk of hospitalization during their first year
- Reduced intelligence as measured by IQ score
- Behavioral and speech difficulties
- An increased chance of suffering from infections, asthma, eczema, type I diabetes, and cancer (lymphoma and leukemia) in early life
- A greater risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, food allergies, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease later in life”
Dr. John McDougall, author of the best-seller “The Starch Solution”, on the nutrition (starch-based low-fat) that has helped thousands of his patients and readers to reverse the chronic illnesses and various diseases of modern society.
Topic: Undesirable effects of artificially increasing growth rates with animal protein
“Increasing body growth may be useful for farm animal production and growing children faster, but it also means growing cancer cells faster, improving conditions for heart disease and speeding up ageing—each of which has been documented. Growing young girls more rapidly means earlier sexual maturation, higher circulating levels of estrogen and, eventually, elevated breast cancer risk.”
My laboratory in a long series of studies conducted over more than two decades showed that the growth of experimental cancer is markedly stimulated by the consumption of animal-based casein, the main protein of cow’s milk. This occurs in part because this animal source protein stimulates the production of the same growth hormone that spurs childhood growth.”
By Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Co-Author of The China Study
Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University
Topic: The part of the story you’re not being told whenever increased growth is bragged about
“Consumption of animal products increases the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 in your body. However, modern dairy technology has made dairy products an even more potent source of this growth stimulant. Since 1985, U.S. dairy farmers have been allowed to inject cows with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone that increases milk production. RbGH treatment produces an increase in IGF-1 in cow’s milk [53,54]. IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization.53 The overall effect is that milk seems to raise IGF-1 levels in people more than any other component of our diet .
The direct evidence of the effects of cow’s milk on IGF-1 levels in people has been provided by the dairy industry’s own efforts. Two recent studies, one on adolescent girls and the other on postmenopausal women, showed increasing milk consumption actually raises plasma levels of IGF-1 in the person’s body by an average of 10% [56,57]. Their take on this is, “this is a beneficial effect” because IGF-1 stimulates bone growth. But, the actual lasting consequences should deliver the final deathblow to dairy products: IGF-1 promotes the growth of cancer. This growth promoter has been strongly linked to the development of cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.  Excess IGF-1 stimulates cell proliferation and inhibits cell death – two activities you definitely don’t want when cancer cells are involved  ”
Dr. John McDougall
Topic: What nutrition is really necessary and best for health?
“In the days before this was discovered, nutritionists, professionals and parents worried that a diet low in dairy products and meats might bring about malnutrition, especially in regard to calcium, protein, and the growth needs of children. But careful studies have shown that if diets are planned sensibly, as all diets should be, protein, calcium, and growth needs will be well covered by a diet of varied whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. (A much greater danger is that of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, when children learn to love an animal-based diet and want it for the rest of their lives.)
What’s the answer? The overall aim in early childhood should be to steer away from an animal-based diet and favor a largely plant-based one, so the child will become used to foods at an adaptable age.”
By Benjamin Spock, MD – Pediatrician
Author of best-seller “Baby and Child Care”
Topic: Position of American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada, and New Zealand Ministry of Health on well-planned vegan nutrition.
POSITION STATEMENT: Vegetarian diets [including vegan]
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
Source: Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets
Ministry of Health NZ (Search “vegan” in each guideline documents): http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/eating-and-activity-guidelines/current-food-and-nutrition-guidelines
Topic: Do you know how many hormones in cow’s milk disturb human hormones?
“each glass of cow’s milk contains nearly 60 different hormones and growth factors, the observations of Dr. Northrup and others who treat the condition [PMS] shouldn’t be surprising.”
By Joe Keon, Wellness Consultant
Hormones and Growth Factors in Milk, published in Endocrine Reviews
The Basic Problem: Wrong Mammal [original title]
“Female mammals by definition secrete milk to fully nourish their young offspring. The nutrient content is specific for the growth requirements of each species. In general, the faster the young offspring grows, the higher the concentration of protein, calcium, and other nutrients in the mammal’s milk. Human babies double in size in six months (180 days), and to support this slow development human breast milk is low in protein (1.2 grams per 100 grams of milk). Cow’s milk, however, has almost three times the protein concentration in order to support a growth rate four times as great (47 days to double in size). Rat pups double in size in just 4.5 days and that rapid growth requires a protein concentration almost 10 times greater than that for human babies.
When a human child is fed cow’s milk, designed for four times their natural growth rate, they become over-nourished. This means they get too many calories and too much fat, promoting obesity. It also means they get too much protein, which raises growth hormone levels. One consequence of accelerated growth is precocious puberty. Girls become women at 12 instead of 16. Boys mature earlier, too.
In reverse, for a moment, consider the consequences of feeding a calf human breast milk. The baby cow would fail to thrive on a food with one-fourth the concentration of vital nutrients required to support its faster growth. (You might be charged with farm animal abuse if you did this, so don’t.) However, the disease-producing consequences of feeding the wrong species milk to children is rarely considered as harmful; rather this practice is universally thought of as “necessary, proper, and the best of all nutrition.” ”
By Dr. McDougall
Topic: On comparing what’s comparable & How to assess healthy growth in infants and children using charts
“Several studies have been reported showing that the growth of vegan children is slower than that of non-vegans (see 7-9). Studies such as these are often cited as evidence that vegan diets are inherently unhealthy. However, when the studies are examined more closely, we find that they are often based on vegans who have very low calorie or very limited diets (only fruit and nuts for example). In addition, many vegan infants are breastfed. Babies who are breastfed tend to gain weight more slowly before their first birthday than do bottle-fed babies. Up until a few years ago, vegetarians whose babies were breastfed were justly suspicious of growth charts. Before 2006, growth charts for infants were mainly based on the growth of babies fed infant formula. Growth charts based on formula-fed infants may make it seem that breastfed infants are not growing well. In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) released growth charts that were based on the growth of breastfed infants (10). These growth charts, which show what normal growth should look like, are called the WHO growth charts and should be used to assess growth of children less than 2 years of age. Older children are monitored with growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (10).
An additional question that must be asked is, “What is a normal growth rate?” Growth rate is assessed by comparing changes in a child’s height, weight, and head circumference to rates of growth that have been established by measuring large numbers of apparently healthy children. Once your child’s height and weight are measured, the measurements are compared to growth curves – graphs that show growth patterns of children by age. There is no single perfect growth rate. Instead, growth charts are set up using percentiles. If your child’s height is at the 50th percentile, that means that 50% of children of that age are taller and 50% are shorter. Similarly, a weight at the 25th percentile means 25% of children weigh less and 75% weigh more at the same age.
While some studies show that vegan children are at a lower percentile of weight and height than are other children of a similar age, a recent study shows that vegan children can have growth rates which do not differ from those of omnivorous children of the same age (11). A wide range of growth percentiles are considered “normal.” A child at the 10th percentile for weight or the 95th percentile for height is still considered to be within the healthy range. You don’t get extra points for higher or lower percentiles. However, if your baby or young child is below the 2nd or above the 98th percentile for weight or head circumference (or below the 2nd percentile for length), your health care provider will try to find out why this is and if intervention is needed.”
by Reed Mangels, PhD, Registered Dietician
Topic: Growing faster does not mean growing taller, and the health hazard it comes with
“Some studies suggest that the growth of vegetarian children is more gradual than that of non-vegetarians—in other words, vegetarian children grow a bit more slowly at first, but they catch up later on. Final heights and weights for vegetarian children are comparable to those of meat-eating children. Interestingly, breast-fed babies also grow more slowly than bottle-fed babies. Somewhat less rapid growth during the early years is thought to decrease disease risk later in life.”
Read more of this article and find out about early puberty risks, IQ and habit forming and later chronic illness here:
Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine
For more information (in a short video format) on the effects of dairy on health, check as well the Dairy video series on nutritionfacts.org.
This study is essentially inconclusive regarding height and cow milk consumption. Like most scientific studies taken alone, it is also terribly reductionist, by focusing on only one number (height) at one specific time in the life cycle (early childhood). The study and news headlines fail to take into consideration overall effects that dairy has on not just children but all humans at any age, let alone the harmful effects of dairy in general, besides health.
For that reason, dairy should never be given a green light as a health food just because there is a possibility that it would be good for one and only one thing. Given the health irrelevance of minor differences in height at one stage of growth, and the numerous harmful effects of dairy on overall human & child health, I hope readers will understand why it is irresponsible and unethical to recommend cow’s milk consumption to children or humans at any age.
It won’t be the first time popular media sensationalised the results of a study published in a science journal, sadly at the detriment of public health and more.
It is however the opportunity to witness in real time how easily these headlines mislead the public, and the opportunity to re-inform the mislead public about the adverse effects of dairy on health.
To remain focused on health, this article intentionally did not cover the unnecessary environmental/global warming damage caused by any type of dairy farming, nor did it explore the ethics of affecting the lives of millions of cows and calves whose secretions and flesh and are officially unnecessary for human nutrition. In the spirit of always looking at the big picture, I encourage the readers to explore those to improve your awareness and practice of consumer responsibility.
As hinted by the health authorities mentioned above, dairy is unnecessary. Given the destructive effects of its production and consumption, this is an opportunity to do something incredibly positive: leave all dairy for the calves it is biologically meant for, and let (or help) dairy farmers flip the universal harm of dairying on its head by transitioning to the radically new careers which hopefully will generate more universal benefit.
To end on lighter note, here’s the lovely Dr. Klaper commenting on cow’s milk and dairy in the context of nutrition: