School milk improves bone health of Kiwi children

School milk programme proves important for children’s growth and development.

New Massey University research shows children drinking milk at school have greater increases in the size and strength of their bones, compared to children who are not involved in the Fonterra Milk for Schools programme.

The study, led by Professor Marlena Kruger from the School of Food and Nutrition, followed 118 children in Manawatū participating in Fonterra’s Milk for Schools programme. The research was carried out over a year, and involved children aged 5-10 years old.

The study, entitled “The possible role of milk in modulating body composition and bone health among pre-pubertal children” examined linear growth, body composition and bone mineral status by looking at a number of physical attributes from bone mineral content to height, weight and waist circumference measures. In addition, all of the children completed a food frequency questionnaire to record their dairy food intake, as well as dietary preferences.

The study found that while the children who regularly drink milk as part of the programme grew at the same rate as children not in the programme (i.e. the same increase in weight and height), they had significantly improved bone health when compared to a control group recruited from schools that do not participate in the programme.

Professor Kruger has presented her findings at the Australian and New Zealand Bone Mineral Society conference in Brisbane. “These findings emphasise the importance of milk and dairy for growth and development in children, by providing calcium and many other important nutrients. This was a really positive outcome, however it was a relatively small study. The results need to be confirmed by a larger and longer term study,” she says.

The study shows that Fonterra Milk for Schools has improved the proportion of children (12 per cent) achieving the recommended number of serves of dairy on weekdays.

The Fonterra Milk for Schools programme operates in more than 70 per cent of New Zealand primary schools and provides dairy nutrition to more than 140,000 children every school day.