Doctors Urge UK Government To Scrap Dairy Milk In Schools And Offer Plant-Based Alternatives To Children
Over 450 doctors and health professionals are urging the UK government to scrap free dairy milk in schools and instead offer plant-based milk. The group claims that dairy is unnecessary for health, and there is no evidence that it promotes bone health. It is linked to increased risk of diseases such as asthma, eczema, and even cancer. Besides, dairy excludes communities of colour from benefiting from free nutrition – over 70% of people from BAME communities are lactose intolerant.
Currently, the government spends around £7 million per year, providing all school children in the UK aged five and under access to free cow's milk. In conjunction with the World Plant Milk Day campaign (22 August), Plant Based Health Professionals UK is calling on the government to shift its focus away from providing free dairy milks and instead offer school children subsidised food that is scientifically found to be healthy, such as plant milks, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses.
Dr Shireen Kassam, a consultant haematologist and founder of Plant Based Health Professionals UK, says: "Dairy should not be an essential part of school nutrition. It is a defunct food product that is not only unnecessary for health, but which also leads to environmental destruction, with the world's 13 largest dairy companies producing the same greenhouse gas emissions as the entire UK. While dairy milk does contain calcium, dairy consumption is not required for bone health, as supported by clinical studies. A recent review paper highlights how countries with the highest intakes of dairy products – including the UK, US and the EU – tend to have the highest rates of hip fractures, while low dairy consumption is associated with a reduced rate of hip fracture. In addition, dairy consumption is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in men – which is most prevalent in African Americans – and possibly endometrial cancer in women, as well as causing digestive issues and other ailments for people who are lactose intolerant.
"In the case of free school milk programmes, plant milks should be offered routinely, which offer a wide range of health benefits, including equivalent amounts of calcium and protein to cow's milk and even fibre, without excluding ethnic minorities. Soya milk consumption, for example, offers similar or higher levels of protein than cow's milk, is fortified with calcium and other important vitamins and minerals. Studies of dietary patterns suggests that the regular consumption of soya foods in particular is likely to be beneficial for bone health as part of a predominately plant-based diet, especially those which include the consumption of fortified milks as well as alternative dietary sources of calcium such as kale, broccoli, tofu, nuts, and beans. Predominately plant-based diets without the consumption of dairy have also been shown to provide numerous other benefits, including improved heart health and reduced cancer risk."
Plant-Based Health Professionals and World Plant Milk Day are also calling for a shift in policy which makes plant milk and food that benefit our health – including fruit and vegetables – accessible and affordable for everyone rather than focusing subsidies on the meat and dairy industries. This would ensure the price difference between dairy and dairy alternatives is not prohibitive.
Dr Miriam Martinez Biarge, a London based paediatrician, is highlighting that dairy is not required as part of a healthy diet for infants and children.
She said: "Breast milk is the optimal way to feed babies in the first six months of life and, along with other foods, continues to be an invaluable source of nutrients until the age of two years. Beyond that age, children do not need dairy products. Fortified soya and pea milks provide the same amounts of protein and calcium as cow's milk, without any of the problems associated with dairy products. In young children, cow's milk interferes with iron absorption and is a well-known risk factor for iron deficiency anaemia, a condition that affects more often African American and Hispanic babies and children."
And with obesity increasingly in the news agenda as a risk factor for being more susceptible to diseases including COVID-19, Leila Dehghan-Zaklaki, a Registered Associate Nutritionist, said: "There is a link between dairy consumption and obesity, which studies funded by the dairy industry or links to dairy industry deny. About 65% of fat in dairy milk is saturated fat, and the consumption of whole milk, cream and cheese in particular, is problematic. Cheese can contain up to 70% fat – a fact that's often overlooked.
"In the UK, Black African and Black Caribbean adults have the highest incidence of obesity. This is something that healthcare professionals and policy makers need to address because obesity has been identified as one of the major risk factors for severe COVID-19 illnesses. This may also be one of the reasons why the mortality rate among BAME communities is disproportionately higher. The government is launching a weight loss campaign to prepare the country for a second wave of COVID-19, and ditching dairy and dairy products needs to be part of that campaign."
In Canada, dairy is no longer considered necessary, with Health Canada recently removing it from Canada's Food Guide. Canadian Registered Dietitian and author, Brenda Davis, commented: "While dairy products are high in calcium, there are many calcium-rich plant foods that can assist consumers in meeting their dietary requirements. Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans consumed an estimated 1,000-1,500 mg calcium per day without a single drop of cow's milk. Food guides that insist on dairy products as an "essential" part of a healthy diet fail those who are lactose-intolerant, the vast majority of whom are of African, Asian, and South American descent.
"As a Canadian dietitian, I am tremendously encouraged that Health Canada detached the voice of industry from the new Canada's Food Guide, and instead relied on evidence-based science. As a result, dairy is no longer considered necessary, and Canada has paved the way for the rest of the Western world. When consumers can make choices that are not only better for their health, but more justifiable ethically and ecologically, we all win."
The World Plant Milk Day campaign is encouraging the public to take its 7 Day Dairy-Free Challenge from Saturday 22 August and switch to plant-based alternatives. Everyone signing up to the challenge at worldplantmilkday.com will receive daily emails with useful advice, tips and recipes. The campaign is also highlighting the work of Refarm'd, an organisation which helps dairy farmers make the switch to producing plant milks, for economic and environmental benefits, as well as for animal welfare reasons and improved public health.