Milk and dairy foods supply important nutrients for young children and adolescents during critical growth periods.
Milk and dairy foods provide essential nutrients that work together to create health benefits for people of all age groups, especially young children and adolescents. Children have unique nutritional needs that differ from the general population, especially during infancy, childhood and adolescence, key growing years when physical and mental development occur. Milk and dairy foods play a key role in children’s diets by providing many of the nutrients required for optimal growth and development.
Milk and dairy foods have a unique nutrient structure, providing macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein and fat—and micronutrients—calcium, phosphorus, potassium and more—to support optimal health. This balanced distribution of carbohydrates, protein and fat, coupled with its unique nutrient package, make milk an important contributor to the diets of children and adolescents. In addition, it’s easy to consume, relatively affordable and palatable for many children with more nutrients naturally occurring than any other single product. Because of this, it can be difficult to replace milk and dairy foods in a healthy dietary pattern.
Many American children are overweight and undernourished. This is particularly true in vulnerable communities, where the food and beverage choices people make are often driven by availability, accessibility and affordability—factors that are largely impacted by public policy. Early childhood is a key opportunity to establish healthy dietary patterns, which are important for supporting optimal growth and development as well as preventing diet-related chronic diseases.
Healthy Eating Research, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program, issued a consensus statement to address recommended beverages for children ages 0–5. The report advocates for plain dairy milk and water as the go-to beverages after age one. Research shows that what children drink from birth through age 5 can have a big impact on their health since beverages contribute significantly to total dietary intake during this critical period.
It is vital that children and adolescents receive adequate nourishment to ensure they can grow optimally and reach their full potential. Milk and dairy foods are a nutritious, accessible option that positively impacts overall dietary patterns. By prioritizing the nutritional needs of children, their long-term health and well-being can be improved.