Drinking Milk in Childhood Extends Life Expectancy

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milk cheersNew evidence suggests that children who consume dairy products may have a lower mortality rate compared with those who do not, according to research to be published in the journal Heart. A 65-year follow-up of a study into the eating habits of families carried out in the 1930s found that dairy products and a diet high in calcium made a difference to how long people lived.

“My father used to say milk was the only true, natural drink,” said Eifion Huws, dairy committee chairman at the Farmers Union of Wales.

In one of the first studies, in 1937-39, the food consumption of children from 1,343 families in England and Scotland were assessed from seven-day household food inventories. The data came from the Carnegie (“Boyd Orr”) survey of diet and health in pre-war Britain.

Now researchers in Bristol and Brisbane, Australia, have carried out a 65-year follow-up study to discover what happened to 4,374 of these children between 1948 and 2005. By 2005, 1,468 (34%) of them had died, including 378 deaths due to coronary heart disease and 121 deaths due to stroke. The researchers looked at two main causes of deaths – stroke and cardiovascular disease.

While warning that other factors may play a part, such as socioeconomic differences, they concluded: “Children whose family diet in the 1930s was high in calcium were at reduced risk of death from stroke.

“Furthermore, childhood diets rich in dairy or calcium were associated with lower all-cause mortality in adulthood.”

Another recent review, in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, made similar findings. It found that dairy products conferred an “overall survival advantage” against vascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Judith Bryans, of the Dairy Council, said the findings were clear: people who are well nourished will be healthier.

“It has long been known that calcium plays an essential in maintaining normal blood pressure and that in turn is important in terms of reducing risk of stroke and heart disease. Milk, cheese and yogurt also provide potassium, another mineral essential for normal blood pressure.”

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