World Milk Day -1st June: Role Models Can Influence Dietary Habits into Adulthood

The F.A.O. (Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) has designated 1st June as annual World Milk Day, creating a global platform to ‘celebrate’ milk.

At home, The National Dairy Council (NDC) is highlighting the role of milk as a source of valuable nutrients in our diet – but reminding us that a balanced diet is not just important for children and teenagers. Adults also need to continue to manage their nutrient intake and follow a balanced diet.

Research shows that Irish women have a higher prevalence of inadequate calcium intake than men; with additional research indicating that a higher percentage of women also consume fewer than the recommended three servings of dairy per day. However role models can play an important role in influencing diet and lifestyle patterns, with research also showing that the beverage consumption patterns of mothers can influence their teenage daughters.

Milk and dairy products are among the stable foods in the Irish diet, with the ‘milk, cheese and yogurt’ food group occupying a designated self in the Department of Health and Children’s Food Pyramid , which provides guidance on the number of portions to be consumed from each of the food groups as part of a balanced diet (Ref 1). In Ireland, national surveys clearly demonstrate the significance of milk and milk products as a source of calcium as well as a contributor to a range of other nutrients (Refs 2 & 3)

Men Closer to Recommended Targets for Dairy Than Women

Results from the SLÁN 2007 Report tell us that the majority (61%) of respondents consumed fewer than the recommended three servings of dairy per day for adults. Further analysis shows that the average number of servings of dairy products consumed per day was 2.4 servings, with men consuming more servings than women (2.7 servings for men vs 2.2 for women) (Refs 4 & 5).

Amongst children and teenagers, surveys show that Irish girls have higher levels of insufficient calcium intakes compared with Irish boys, with the nutritional gap bigger during the teenage years (teenagers 13-17 years: 42% females, 23% males; children 5-12 years: 37% females, 28% males) (Refs 3 & 6) .

"Irish research confirms that milk and milk products are an important source of calcium in our diet,” says Dr. Catherine Logan, Nutrition Manager, The National Dairy Council (Refs 2 & 3). “It is important to establish healthy diet and lifestyle habits in childhood, but also to continue these habits during the transition to adolescence and then adulthood. With regards to dairy & calcium, decreased consumption with age is a concern,” says Dr. Logan.

Influencing Diet & Dairy Consumption: Mothers & Daughters

There are numerous factors which influence food choices and dietary patterns. However the transition from adolescence to adulthood may represent a life-stage when changes in dietary patterns may occur (Refs 7 & 8). A study by Larson et al., suggests that simply having milk available at meal-times for teenagers may have a positive impact on calcium intakes in the longer-term (Ref 7).

The dietary habits of parents may, not surprisingly, influence children’s milk and dairy consumption. Very interestingly, mother-daughter beverage choice relationships appear critical (Refs 9, 10, 11).

One study suggests that the beverage choices made by mothers may actually influence the possible ‘trade-off’ between milk and soft drinks in their daughters’ diets (Ref 10). Another prospective study demonstrated that girls’ milk intake was positively associated with their mothers’ intake; and that girls who met the U.S. adequate intake for calcium had mothers who drank more milk. Interestingly the relationship between mother-daughter milk consumption appeared to be mediated by the frequency with which milk was served (Ref 9).

“There are misconceptions out there regarding dairy foods and body weight which may impact on dairy consumption, particularly by teenage girls and women, who might be avoiding this food group in an attempt to control body weight,” says Dr. Catherine Logan, Nutrition Manager with the National Dairy Council. She explains that a weight loss or weight maintenance diets should address diet quality, as well as quantity and that adequate nutrient intakes are still essential.

“Recommended dairy intakes should be incorporated into any weight management regime. Reduced-fat options are helpful choices for those trying to reduce weight, as reduced-fat dairy foods are still nutritious choices with the overall micronutrient content being largely similar to whole milk equivalents,” says Dr. Logan (Ref 12).

Additionally, international research is also evaluating and demonstrating a beneficial potential of calcium, particularly dairy calcium, in weight management (Ref 13).

Affordable Nutrition – The Cost Factor

Additionally, it is important to highlight that milk offers a favourable nutrient-to-price ratio (Ref 14). Dr. Catherine Logan, Nutrition Manager with the National Dairy Council, explains that milk can be a source of “affordable nutrition”.

For parents of children and teenagers at school, this value is extended by the EU-subsidised School Milk Scheme, which provides an affordable means of assisting children and teenagers achieve their recommended dairy intake in participating schools.

There’s More to Dairy Than Calcium

In addition to calcium, dairy foods make important contributions to the intakes of a range of other nutrients such as phosphorus, protein, riboflavin and B12, amongst others.

National surveys highlight the contribution of the milk and dairy food group in the Irish diet to other nutrients in addition to calcium. For example, milk and yogurt contributed 10% and 11% to the protein intake of Irish adults aged 18-64 years and ≥65 years, respectively (Ref 2). Among Irish teenagers, milk and yogurt contributed 40% to vitamin B12 intake and 29% to riboflavin intake (Ref 6).

Consequences of Dairy-Restricted Diets

There are a number of possible implications associated with insufficient calcium intakes,” says Dr. Catherine Logan, Nutrition Manager with The National Dairy Council. “Whilst it is widely known that dairy consumption impacts calcium adequacy – dairy foods can also contribute to the overall nutritional value of the diet. Maintaining the milk and dairy food group within a balanced diet in line with the food pyramid guidelines, is recommended.”

Food Pyramid Guidelines – Milk & Dairy:

These guidelines, which are suitable from five years of age, recommend the consumption of three portions from the milk, cheese and yogurt group per day for children and adults, as part of a balanced diet. However, the Irish Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium increases from 800 mg/day between the ages of 1-10 years and 18+ years to 1200 mg/day during the ages of 11-17 years, pregnancy (second half) and lactation (first six months)2. Hence, during the teenage years and pregnancy/breastfeeding, five daily servings of dairy is advised. One serving of dairy equates to ⅓ pint (189ml) milk, 1oz (28g) cheddar-type cheese or 1 carton (125g) of yogurt.

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