On the 27th September, the globe will be celebrating World School Milk Day. First introduced in 2000, countries around the world have come together for a celebration of the benefits of providing children with milk in schools. This brilliant day got us thinking, why is drinking milk and consuming dairy products just so important for children?
Following the economic climate of the World Wars, malnutrition in children was a concern for teachers, parents and the government. An act was already passed at the beginning of the 20th century to allow schools to apply for funds for free school meals for children from low income families, this was then extended to allow for milk in 1921, which was particularly encouraged after investigations started to discover a link between low incomes, malnutrition and academic underperformance.
In 1946, Minister of Education Ellen Wilkinson persuaded Parliament to pass the School Milk Act, which allowed all children (not just those deemed to be from low income families) to benefit from free milk at school. Each child under the age of 18 was entitled to a third of a pint of milk. As the decades went on, politicians from various parties started to reduce the age of eligibility for school milk – a subject which is still a contentious one to this day – and today, all pre-school children under the age of five are entitled to one third of a pint, and dairy products for primary school children are subsidised.
So why is milk so important for children in particular? One of the main reasons is because of its high calcium level, which is necessary for children because the body cannot make calcium itself yet is needed for children’s bones to grow at the rate they do during their formative years. Not only this, but milk is fortified with vitamin D, a chemical which is typically synthesized by the sun from exposure to sunlight – so when the sun isn’t out or children are spending time indoors, milk is more important than ever. Without the sufficient levels of vitamin D, children are at risk of developing rickets.
But it’s not just the bones inside the body which benefit from a diet rich in milk and dairy products – the growth and development of children’s teeth is also supported. Not only does calcium aid the growth just likes bones, but milk also neutralises the acids which build up in the mouth which cause decay. Encouraging children to drink, and enjoy, milk as their drink of choice (after water) may also help in the fight against childhood obesity. Firstly, children will feel full from the protein in milk and so less likely to snack; and secondly, if children can enjoy drinking milk it may mean that they have a healthy alternative to sugar-filled juices and teeth rotting fizzy drinks.
Whilst milk benefits from naturally occurring sugars (lactose) rather than artificial, some worry about the levels of fat found in milk. Recent studies are attempting to de-bunk the hysteria surrounding fats, finding that a diet higher in refined sugar is far more unhealthy than ones higher in fat. But for children in particular, fat is necessary part of a healthy diet. Children need more calories to provide the energy for growth, and healthy fats are needed to help the brain and nervous system develop normally.
Many official health bodies, such as the NHS, advise that a healthy diet for children is one which is rich in milk and dairy products – and here at Meadow Foods, we couldn’t agree more. Happy World School Milk Day everyone!