In Kids’ Height, The Type of Milk Matters

type of milk

Children require optimal nutrition during growth years to maximize their growth potential. Protein needs are significantly higher per pound of body weight for children compared to adults.

Adequate protein is essential for maintaining protein stores and keeping many bodily functions performing efficiently. It’s also needed for developing and growing:

  • the brain
  • immune system
  • muscles
  • collagen
  • hair

The protein source also appear critical for maximizing growth potential.

A 2012 meta-analysis found that children who consume dairy products daily grow taller than those who do not. Other published studies have found that cow-milk proteins (i.e., casein and whey) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) contribute to gains in linear growth.

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the connection between childhood height and the type of milk consumed. This study included 5,020 healthy children between 24-72 months old living in Toronto, Canada.

Questionnaires collected age, sex, BMI (in kg/m2) Z score, maternal ethnicity, income, and maternal height. Neighborhood income was used to account for socioeconomic status. The researchers also analyzed the daily volume of milk—both cow and non-cow.

The results show an association between height and milk type consumed, depending on the dosage. And there was no statistically significant data to support that the consumption of non-cow milk improved childhood height. Non-cow milk was actually associated with decreased height gains during childhood.

On average, one cup of non-cow milk was associated with a 0.4 cm shorter stature. Interestingly, three-year-old children that consumed 3 cups of non-cow milk in comparison to those that drank 3 cups of cow milk were approximately 1.5 cm shorter.

Further research is needed to understand the causal relations between non-cow milk consumption and childhood height. This study suggests it is important to consider which type of milk is best for children to consume.

Different nutritional content (energy, protein, fats, and minerals) is one possible explanation for the results. For example, two cups of cow milk provides16 g of protein, which is 70 percent of the daily protein requirement for a 3-year-old. Two cups of almond milk provide 4 g of protein—only 25 percent of the daily protein recommendation.

What does this mean?

If your child is vegan, vegetarian, or has dairy allergies, reading labels and doing comparisons is important. This may help parents find the alternative that is nutritionally best for their child to support healthy growth and development.

Morency ME, Birken CS, Lebovic G, et al. Association between noncow milk beverage consumption and childhood height. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(2):597-602.