Open letter to Dr Hilary Jones with reference to free school milk
Response to Dr Hilary Jones’ letter to RT Hon Matt Hancock MP Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, regarding Plant Based Health Professionals UK’s call to replace free school milk in school with plant milk, fruit and vegetables.
You will remember that back in August, I worked on the World Plant Milk Day Campaign and did an interview with the Times newspaper calling for an end to free school milk and and instead to subsidise fruit, vegetables and plant milk. Unbeknown to us, this generated a letter to RT Hon Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, from Dr Hilary Jones on behalf of The School & Nursery Milk Alliance. Who even knew about this organisation?! I quote ‘We are a coalition of organisations from the early years, education, health and dairy sectors who are committed to promoting the benefits to children’s physical and dental health and wellbeing that arise from drinking milk in learning environments’. So essentially a dairy funded front organisation. The UK Government are of course complicit in propping up the dairy industry using tax payers money even though demand for milk is steadily reducing, excess milk is being thrown away, dairy farming is contributing to environmental destruction and it’s irrelevance for human health.
As an aside, for those of you not in the UK, Dr Hilary Jones is a General Practitioner and one of our most long standing TV doctors, featuring prominently on morning TV. He has just been awarded an MBE. It’s a shame he is not more up to date on the science of milk consumption and human health.
Dear Dr Jones,
I am disappointed to learn that you continue to promote cow’s milk consumption in children and the free school milk programme. You state that milk has ‘unrivalled nutritional content’. In my view, the nutritional content of milk is only unrivalled if you are a baby cow. There is no requirement for milk consumption beyond weaning, as evidenced by the fact that 70% of the global population have lactose malabsorption, which can manifest as intolerance. Europeans have indeed adapted to digesting dairy beyond weaning but even then, up to 30% are not able to digest the main sugar lactose. For those with lactose intolerance, consuming dairy can be distressing, leading to abdominal pain, diarrhoea and nausea. The school milk programme excludes and discriminates against those with lactose intolerance, often children from ethnic minorities in the UK.
With this is mind, Health Canada has removed dairy from its most recent food guide. The healthiest hydration for children and adults is in fact water. You however state various health benefits of dairy consumption for children, such as boosting energy, aiding concentration and maintaining a healthy weight but there is no such conclusive evidence. In fact, a review paper from earlier this year summarising the current evidence for milk consumption in one of the world’s most highly respected medical journals concluded that milk was not required for optimal health in children or adults. The authors conclude that there is no convincing evidence that milk consumption promotes a healthy weight, improves bone health or reduces the risk of any chronic illness. In fact, they highlight that milk consumption has the potential for harm, including an increased risk of eczema, asthma, acne, prostate and endometrial cancers.
You claim that dairy consumption helps maintain a healthy weight in children, yet a randomised study found no benefit of dairy consumption for reducing body fat or weight. You also state that omitting dairy from the diet could lead to malnutrition, including Kwashiorkor — a form of protein malnutrition — especially when consuming a rice-based vegan diet. Yet, when meeting calorie requirements, scientific studies have shown that a healthy plant-based diet provides more protein than is required for any age group.
Neither I nor Plant-Based Health Professionals UK are recommending a rice-based vegan diet in place of free school milk. The study you cite raising concerns about the use of plant milks leading to malnutrition was conducted in children aged 4 to 14 months, when breast milk is considered the optimal source of calories and nutrients, and these data cannot be extrapolated to school-aged children. Studies have shown that the growth, health and nutritional status of vegetarian and vegan children are within normal range and comparable with non-vegetarian children. It is widely accepted that nutrients found in milk, including calcium, can be obtained from whole plant sources and fortified plant milks if preferred. Fortified soya milk, the most appropriate alternative to cow’s milk, has similar quantities of protein and calcium as cow’s milk, with benefits for heart health and breast cancer reduction. The absorption of calcium from many green vegetables is also greater than that from cow’s dairy. This information is supported and endorsed by major dietetic associations around the world including most recently the BDA in the UK.
I agree wholeheartedly with you that our children need access to high-quality nutrient rich food. The foods most associated with health promotion in children and adults are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Yet only 18% of children in the UK eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. We should be promoting the consumption of these foods in schools, which are inclusive of all communities and supported by strong scientific evidence. It is time we put children’s health before the vested interests of the dairy industry.
Dr Shireen Kassam, Founder and Director of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK
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