An alternatives-to-milk study found that children consuming non-cow drinks such as soy and almond milk turned out to be shorter than average children their age.
The study, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, said that children were 0.4 centimeters shorter than the average age for each cup of non-cow milk they drank daily.
On the flip side, children drinking cow's milk turned out to be 0.2 centimeters taller than average for each daily cup they drank, the study showed.
"In the mediation analysis, lower cow milk consumption only partially mediated the association between non-cow milk consumption and lower height," said the study’s abstract. "Non-cow milk consumption was associated with lower childhood height. Future research is needed to understand the causal relations between non-cow milk consumption and height."
CBS News noted that for a 3-year-old, the height difference for those drinking three cups of non-cow's milk compared to three cups of cow's milk per day was 1.5 centimeters.
Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician with Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital and the lead author of the study, said the height difference identified in the study was similar to the difference between major percentile lines on the World Health Organization growth chart.
Maguire said height is an important indicator of children's overall health and development and cow's milk has provided a reliable source of dietary protein and fat for North American children, two essential nutrients to ensure proper growth in early childhood.
The study said some parents have been choosing to give children alternatives such as soy and almond milk because of perceived health benefits.
"The nutritional content of cow's milk is regulated in the United States and Canada, while the nutritional contents of most non-cow's milks are not," said. "The lack of regulation means the nutritional content varies widely from one non-cow's milk product to the next, particularly in the amount of protein and fat."
Maguire said that since there is little research on the effect of non-cow's milk on childhood growth, it makes it difficult for the average consumer to understand the pros and cons of choosing non-cow's milk over cow's milk for their child.
"If products are being marketed as being equivalent to cow's milk, as a consumer and a parent, I would like to know that they are in fact the same in terms of their effect on children's growth," said Maguire.
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