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Is Cow's Milk Harmful to a Child's Health?

Agostoni, Carlo*; Turck, Dominique

Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition: December 2011 - Volume 53 - Issue 6 - p 594–600
doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e318235b23e
Invited Reviews

ABSTRACT: Discussions and debates have recently emerged on the potential positive and negative effects of cow's milk in the paediatric community, also under the pressure of public opinion. The negative effects of cow's-milk consumption seem to be limited to iron status up to 9 to 12 months; then no negative effects are observed, provided that cow's milk, up to a maximum daily intake of 500 mL, is adequately complemented with iron-enriched foods. Lactose intolerance can be easily managed and up to 250 mL/day of milk can be consumed. Allergy to cow's-milk proteins is usually transient. Atopic children may independently be at risk for poor growth, and the contribution of dairy nutrients to their diet should be considered. The connection of cow's milk to autistic spectrum disorders is lacking, and even a cause–effect relation with type 1 diabetes mellitus has not been established because many factors may concur. Although it is true that cow's milk stimulates insulin-like growth factor-1 and may affect linear growth, association with chronic degenerative, noncommunicable diseases has not been established. Finally, fat-reduced milk, if needed, should be considered after 24 to 36 months. Cow's milk represents a major source of high nutritional quality protein as well as of calcium. Moreover, it has growth-promoting effects independent of specific compounds. Its protein and fat composition, together with the micronutrient content, is suggestive of a functional food, whose positive effects are emphasised by regular consumption, particularly under conditions of diets poor in some limiting nutrients, although in industrialised countries cow's milk's optimal daily intake should be around 500 mL, adequately complemented with other relevant nutrients.

*Department of Pediatrics, University of Milan, Fondazione IRCCS Cà Granda—Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy

Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Department of Pediatrics, Jeanne de Flandre Children's Hospital and Faculty of Medicine, University Lille 2, Lille, France.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Prof Carlo Agostoni, Department of Pediatrics, University of Milan, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda—Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico Via della Commenda, 9, I-20122 Milano, Italy (e-mail:,

Received 26 July, 2011

Accepted 1 September, 2011

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Copyright 2011 by ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN