How Milk May Contribute to Childhood Obesity

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How Milk May Contribute to Childhood Obesity

We’ve known that breastfed infants may be protected against obesity later in life for more than 30 years, but why? It may be the formula. Giving infants formula based on cow’s milk presents an unusual situation. Cow’s milk is designed to put nearly two pounds a day onto a growing calf, 40 times the growth rate of human infants (see Formula for Childhood Obesity).

The perfect food for humans, finely tuned over millions of years, is human breast milk. Remarkably, among all mammalian species, the protein content of human milk is the lowest. The excessive protein content of cow’s milk-based formula is thought to be what sets the child up for obesity later in life.

And then, instead of being weaned, we continue to drink milk. The question, thus, arises as to whether consumption of a growth-promoting substance from another species throughout childhood fundamentally alters processes of human growth and maturation. A study out of Indiana University, for example, found evidence that greater milk intake is associated with an increased risk of premature puberty; girls drinking a lot of milk started to get their periods earlier. Thus, cross-species milk consumption and ingestion into childhood may trigger unintended consequences.

Only human milk allows appropriate metabolic programming and protects against diseases of civilization in later life, whereas consumption of cow’s milk and other dairy products during adolescence and adulthood is an evolutionarily novel behavior that may have long-term adverse effects on human health.

Teens exposed to dairy proteins, such as casein, skim milk, or whey, experienced a significant increase in BMI and waist circumference compared to a control group. In contrast, not a single study funded by the dairy industry found a result unfavorable to milk.

The head of the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and the chair of Harvard’s nutrition department wrote an editorial recently to the AMA’s Pediatrics journal questioning the role of cow’s milk in human nutrition. They stated the obvious: humans have no requirement for other animal’s milk; in fact, dairy may play a role in certain cancers due to the high levels of reproductive hormones in the U.S. milk supply.

So what’s The Best Baby Formula? Click on the link and find out!

More on dairy and infancy:

And in childhood: Childhood Constipation and Cow’s Milk and Treating Infant Colic by Changing Mom’s Diet

In adolescence: Saving Lives By Treating Acne With Diet

Before conception: Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility

During pregnancy: Why Do Vegan Women Have 5x Fewer Twins?

And in adulthood:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

17 responses to “How Milk May Contribute to Childhood Obesity

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  1. For those of you who support through your Amazon Smile purchases: Today (March 16) amazon will donate 5% of your purchase price–this is 10 times their usual donation rate.

  2. Hmm, well I grew up drinking a gallon of milk a day from the age of about 6 to my late teens. Never had any problems with weight.

    1. Hi Scotty,

      I also grew up drinking so much milk and never put on weight because I am naturally very lean and have a fast metabolism. However, in my twenties all that milk consumption lead me to becoming intolerant, and suffering from poor sinuses and migraines. Then after cutting out dairy, everything was much better.

      So I am a firm believer that milk (from a cow or any animal) is not meant for us to consume in liquid or solid form, and most of us will suffer in some way or another if we continue to consume it. Whether that is through weight gain, excess mucus formation, IBS… And from the hours I have spent watching videos and others on YouTube there is so much research that backs this up.

      I am not sure how much you have watched/read on here? But the more you do may convince you that consuming milk and/or any other animal products in the short or long term, is detrimental to our health, and not to mention the negative impact on the environment, and of course animal rights.

      So I do hope is, or will be a valuable resource for you as it is to me and many others.

      All the best :)

    2. Thanks for your comment Scotty.

      I am glad to hear that your weight is adequate and you are not having any issues.

      Regarding this article, there is a factor that we should take into account and that is, generally speaking, one particular food is usually not exclusively the cause of a health issue, it is a combination of factors such as overall diet. This information is pointing out to the fact that milk consumption may be one of those key factors related to childhood obesity, but of course physical activity, genes, overall diet, environment etc will also also influence the outcome.

      On the other hand, it is important to consider that not everybody is affected by the consumption of milk the same. For example, in a different scenario, not all life time smokers will develop lung cancer in their life. In fact, there are many anecdotal examples of people smoking >1 pack of cigarettes per day and live well beyond their 100s. This does not mean that based on these individuals, we can recommend smoking as a healthy habit because it clearly does affect negatively the majority of the population. Same principle can be applied to milk or other animal foods.

      Hope this answer helps.

      1. I watched the video and I was so horrified that I posted it on Facebook. My opposition to dairy wouldn’t depend on the health argument, but rather the cruelty argument. Health would be a bonus.

  3. Normally on Nutritionfacts dairy doesn’t do well in the studies presented . Makes one wonder if we as a society made a mistake by domesticating cows ?

  4. I’ve been getting attacked by family members lately regarding the vegan lifestyle for my children. We’ve been vegan for several years now, very happy and healthy. I was just hoping someone had a few links to scientific papers specifically studying the heath benefits in children and adolescents. I’ve been searching myself but also wanted some support. Thank you!

    1. Beatrice: I’m sorry you are not getting the support you deserve for making such healthy decisions for your family. Below is some information that I have gathered over the years. I hope it helps.

      First, note the following quote from a position paper from the ADA: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
      Also note this quote from Dr. Greger’s book, How Not To Die, page 411-412: “Vitamin B12-fortified plant-based diets can offer health benefits for all stages of the life cycle. [When] Dr. Benjamin Spock, the most esteemed pediatrician of all time,…died at ninety-four, he advocated children be raised on a plant-based diet with no exposure to meat or dairy products. … ‘Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods have a tremendous health advantage and are much less likely to develop health problems as the years go by.’ ”
      But having said that, there are some ‘gotchas’ when it comes to young children and whole plant food diets (just like there are gotchas with children and any diet). So, it really is worth spending some time reviewing accurate, evidence-based information on the topic. Here’s some ideas for specifics:
      PCRM is the Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine, headed up by Dr. Barnard. Dr. Greger has mentioned Dr. Barnard and PCRM favorably in posts and his book. Here are two articles from PCRM that I think contains the type of information you are looking for:
      I’ll also refer you to a site called the Vegetarian Resource Group, VRG. Their articles are usually very well researched and Dr. Greger has mentioned VRG favorably at least once. VRG has a whole section on kids on their website.
      Here’s the main page. Scroll down to the Nutrition section:
      This is one of my favorite articles on that page. which starts with babies and goes on up:
      Finally, I highly recommend getting a book called, Becoming Vegan, Express Edition. That book is a great over-all reference book for the whole family. It also has an entire chapter on children and what to feed. The authors of that book have been guest bloggers here on NutritionFacts. They are very well respected and extremely knowledgeable about nutrition science and how it applies to all ages.
      I really hope this helps you to get your family on board. It’s not just respecting the decisions you make as a parent. Consuming animal products puts your children at risk. That’s just not OK.
      I have one more idea for you. I suspect your family feels the way they do about your diet, in part because they do not believe that eating a whole plant food diet is healthy for *anyone*. If possible, you may see if you can get your extended family to watch movies such as Forks Over Knives and Dr. Greger’s summary videos (found on the home page). These videos can be very compelling. Maybe invite the extended group over for dinner and a movie? While these sources do not address kids specifically, these movies might help your family to see the diet in a different way in general and thus make it easier to apply the concepts to children.

      I hope this helps.

  5. Hi,

    I’m confused on Nutrionfacts very negative views on diary, because it doesn’t match with other arguments that seem convincing.

    The story I have read, goes: In early times, humans were intolerant to lactose. Then, in the early middle ages in Europe, some people gained the ability to consume milk because of a gene mutation. The newly acquired asset was so extremely helpfull with surviving and procreating that the mutation spread quickly throughout the European population.

    Is that true? If yes, than there must have been significant benefits to drinking milk back than. Are they completely irrelevant now?

    If cheese is unhealthy, why does it taste so damn good? Doesn’t good taste mean that our body sees a big benefit in the food? It can’t just be fat, since cheese tastes better than butter or avocado.

    And anyway, humans have been omnivores since humankind exists. It seems logical to me, that our bodies would have adapted through evolution to eating animal products.

    1. Jaheira: You might consider these thoughts:

      1) 65% of the human population is still lactose intolerant. Any policy which pushes dairy is pushing health problems for the majority of humans even if they completely ignore all the many other problems with dairy.

      2) Even if a human who is (suppose to be) past weaning can digest lactose, that doesn’t mean that all the other aspects of dairy are healthy. Dairy is made up of saturated fat, animal protein, hormones, and contaminants to name a few of it’s problems. Food is a package deal. You don’t get any good (of which there is precious little in dairy) without the bad. We know that the overall effect of consuming dairy is detrimental. You can learn more about those studies on this site.

      3) It is easy to understand how a gene for lactose tolerance could spread so quickly in ancient times. Diary provides concentrated forms of calories, most especially cheese. In times of starvation, dairy would help someone to survive another day–for the short term. To be an evolutionary advantage, it just has to help us survive past having and raising offspring. In modern times, we don’t need to get past a winter. We want to live years and years healthfully. As shown on this website, dairy is bad for our long term health for many reasons.

      4) I would argue that avocado tastes better than cheese. That is a personal preference. Your point about tastes though, starts to get at a very important point: people are literally addicted to cheese–to the point that cheese tastes better to them than *anything* else. Why is that? Dairy has a measurable/clinical addictive effect. However, just because something is addictive (smoking, alcohol, heroine, etc) does not mean that it is healthy for you. (See book mentioned below for more info about addictive effect.)

      5) Lots of things taste good to us. I love candy and cake and … I understand that just because those foods taste good to me, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the foods are good for me.

      6) Tastes are adaptive. You can train yourself to love the taste of unhealthy food or you can train yourself to love the taste of healthy food. It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course. We are biologically adapted to be drawn to certain tastes and high calorie density foods. In times before grocery stores and junk food, those tastes steered us right. Now we have to work at it a bit to avoid what is known as “the pleasure trap”. You can learn more about that by reading the book with that title or watching the TED talk. Putting the lure of “artificial” foods (like cheese – which is about as artificial as it gets – see book below) aside, good taste *can* mean the food is good for us. But if you are currently adapted to like unhealthy food like cheese, you may need to re-adjust your tastes. (Try eating a healthy diet for three weeks, which is a good start.)

      7) Finally, to address your “…humans have been omnivores…” point: See my argument above about evolutionary advantages needing to get us to the point where we raise offspring. Now we have science to tell us what is healthy eating for living a very long healthy life past say 40 years. If you look up the Okinawa video on this website, you will see that some of the longest, healthiest people on the planet ate less than 4% animal products. Combine that information with the other information on this website, and I think it is safe to say that the traditional Okinawans did so well in spite of their trivial animal product consumption, not because of it.

      If the topic of dairy interests you, I highly recommend Dr. Barnard’s new book: The Cheese Trap. It covers these points in detail. It is a fast, easy read and has recipes at the back of the book.

      I hope this helps.

      1. As another moderator, I just have to say WOW, what a good response, Thea. thanks for so clearly putting forth so many well-thought our words of encouragement for us to review and reconsider possible objections to whole food plant based nutrition. I’m going to go eat an avacodo!!!

      2. Thank you Thea,

        for your elaborate answers. Your argument that procreation is different from longlivity sounds convincing. I will also check the internet on the “Cheese Trap”
        book and the “addiction” argument for further reading.

        Best regards


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