By the time many children reach kindergarten they consume fewer nutrient-rich dairy foods than recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Further magnifying the problem, they increasingly turn to less nutritious beverage choices as they move into their teen years, an important period for building healthy bones. Evidence for the three or more servings of dairy foods each day, as well as the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health, are supported by recent publications from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dairy foods' (milk, cheese and yogurt) have a unique ability to provide these important nutrients many children are lacking, and are diverse enough to fit three servings into many nutrient-dense dietary patterns, from a Mediterranean diet to Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and MyPlate eating plans.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) clinical report, "Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents," published in the October 2014 issue of Pediatrics states:
Cow's milk intake in childhood and adolescence is associated with high bone mineral content and reduced risk of fracture in adulthood.
This may be due to cow's milk's unique package of bioavailable nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans acknowledge as nutrients of public health concern.
Children four to eight years of age require two to three servings of dairy products per day, and adolescents require four servings.
Vegetables provide bioavailable calcium, but in some vegetables (i.e., spinach, beans, collard greens, rhubarb) the calcium is bound by oxalates making it difficult to rely on vegetables alone to meet daily calcium requirements without consuming substantial quantities.
Milk alternatives, such as soy- or almond-based beverages, may have a reduced amount of bioavailable calcium per glass, even when fortified with calcium.
Further exploring challenges with fortification, "Consumption of Non-cow's Milk Beverages and Serum D Levels in Early Childhood," published in the current issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, assessed the vitamin D levels and eating habits of 2,821 healthy children ages one to six and found children who drank only non-cow's milk were more than twice as likely as children who drank only cow's milk to have lower vitamin D levels.7 This could be due, in part, to the fact that cow's milk is required to be fortified with vitamin D, yet adding vitamin D to non-cow's milk is voluntary. Cow's milk is the number one food source of vitamin D in diets of US children and adults, alike.