This week’s question was asked by friends.

QUESTION: Does drinking milk make kids grow taller?

ANSWER: Studies (American Society for Clinical Nutrition) show that young children who have a long history of not drinking milk tend to have “less stature and high adiposity.” Put another way, short and fat.

The amount, they admit, is very slight, and genetics and heredity play the greater role in determining how tall a person will be in adulthood.

“The milk from breastfeeding is necessary for infant growth across all mammalian species, and humans are the only species of mammals that not only raises their young using the milk of another animal, but also consumes this milk in later life,” says Dr. Robert Ashley from the UCLA Medical College.

The question asked is, “What is the positive or negative effects of drinking milk beyond the time of breastfeeding?”

The latest large study, completed this year (2017) in Canada found that children who drank three cups of cow milk a day were 1.5 centimeters taller than those who drank three cups of non-cow milk. Non-cow milk means they could be drinking soy, almond or goat milk. Those Canadians love the metric system; 1.5 centimeters is about five-eighths of an inch.

Kids who drank three cups per day of soy, almond, or goat milk were a half inch shorter than kids who did not drink any of those non-cow milks. What a kick in the head; drinking soy, almond or goat milk makes a kid shorter than if he/she did not drink that stuff. The study threw in goat milk in the same category as soy and almond milk.

The Canadian study, and Dr. Ashley’s interpretation, gives possible explanations. Size, including height, is linked to the intake of proteins. Cow’s milk contains proteins in the casein and in the whey. Cow’s milk also contains the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which promotes bone and cartilage formation and hence greater height.

Two ideas came out of the study. One is that plant-based milks, soy and almond, do not contain as much protein and fat as cow milk. The other is that goat milk is not equivalent with cow milk. Children who don’t drink cow milk don’t get the calories and protein needed for good growth.

There is another twist to this narrative. Kids with food allergies are less likely to drink cow milk. Food allergies have been associated with decreased height and weight. So, the allergies may be a factor in height.

Milk is high in calcium, which plays an important role in bone health, contributing to bone mass and density, and high mineral content. Good bone mass and density could prevent osteoporosis in later life.

In youth, a diet rich in calcium and protein can fortify the tender bone structure preventing injury or harm that can shunt natural growth. Those growth areas harden into bone. Growth generally stops in teen years.

Any mention of milk harkens me back to my days on the farm outside of Seneca in Crawford County, milking four cows by hand both morning and night. Oh, the neighbors had milking machines, but not the Scheckel family. Memories of squirting the barn cats, and milk fights with my two brothers, complete with matted hair. We drank whole milk, churned our own butter, and made our own ice cream. We had a milk separator, selling the cream to the cheese factory in Seneca. The skim milk was mixed with ground oats to produce slop to feed the hogs. Pigs love that stuff!

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Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.