The benefits of dairy products at each stage of life


Milk and dairy products can be a nutritious and delicious part of your day, providing health benefits at every stage of life.

Out of the 100 countries across the world that set out national dietary guidelines, approximately 75% include dairy in their food-based recommendations.

Dairy products support optimal development for children

Dairy products can play an important role in supporting good nutrition for children. This is because milk and dairy products are naturally nutrient-dense, with  the benefits of milk in a child’s diet well-established. Milk has been shown to help improve nutritional status in primary-school aged children, whether it’s plain or flavoured, and provides benefits to their bone and dental health. For example, researchers at Massey University compared children at schools in the Fonterra Milk for Schools programme with children at schools that didn’t participate in the programme. They found that children who drank milk at school had greater increases in bone size and strength. 

Without the right nutrients in the first 12 years of life, a child’s growth can falter and lead to stunting and impaired cognitive development. Stunting is an important health issue among under-fives, affecting almost 150 million children globally. One large cross-country study described stunting as “having exceptionally high individual and social costs.” That research found milk consumption at national level is associated with meaningful reductions in stunting.

Dairy consumption also has other benefits for children, including helping them to maintain a healthy weight.
A meta-analysis of over 46,000 children found that those with the highest dairy intake were 38% less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those with the lowest dairy intake. 

Dairy protein contains all nine of the essential amino acids that must come from your diet.

Laura ANderson, Global Head of Nutrition, fonterra

“We know that many kids enjoy drinking milk and eating cheese and yoghurt,” says Laura Anderson, Global Head of Nutrition at Fonterra. “These foods can be a great way to help children get the nutrients they need in their everyday diets, so they can grow up healthy and develop strong bones in adulthood.” 

Milk helps teens and young adults reach maximum bone density 

Although you might stop growing taller by the time you reach your late teens, bone density growth continues until around the age of 25. For optimal bone formation, calcium is essential. Having more bioavailable calcium in your diet has been demonstrated to improve bone development and health, therefore consuming enough calcium in the diet is recommended during adolescence to increase peak bone mass, as achieving higher bone mass when you are young lowers the risk of osteoporosis when bone mass reduces later in life. 

And it’s not only calcium that is working to strengthen bones at this time of life. Milk contains phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, bioactive peptides and high-quality protein, which also supports bone growth and a strong skeleton

Laura Anderson, Global Head of Nutrition at Fonterra

One review found that among those aged 10 to 17 years, intentionally increasing dairy intake led to an average 8% increase in bone mineral density. An even larger review found that adding dairy products to the normal diet significantly increased bone mineral content for those aged between three and 18 years. 

Building and maintaining a healthy body in adulthood with dairy protein

High-quality nutrition helps all adults to maintain a healthy body. Dairy products can provide some of the essential nutrients you need to build and repair muscles. It also reduces the risk of overweight and obesity, and maintaining a healthy weight is an important factor in reducing the risk of lifestyle related diseases such as heart disease and type II diabetes.

Dairy products provide high-quality protein, with
essential amino acids that are some of the building blocks needed to create new muscle proteins. It also contains the electrolytes calcium, magnesium and potassium, which facilitate muscle function. 

Research has demonstrated that consuming dairy products improved lean mass, power and strength in adult men who undertake resistance training. Cheese, too, had benefits for men doing weight training; in one study it increased their muscle protein synthesis rate, which helps improve exercise recovery and adaptation. 

And it’s not only children, but adults too, who may see body composition benefits from consuming dairy products. For example, a meta-analysis looked at adults who were restricting their energy intake and measured their body composition. Those who consumed more dairy foods or dairy protein supplements
experienced greater losses in bodyweight and fat, with reduced loss of lean muscle when compared to those who consumed no additional dairy protein. 

“Dairy protein contains all nine of the essential amino acids that must come from your diet,” Anderson explains. “This is why it’s considered a ‘complete’ protein, and why it
compares favourably to plant-based proteins when it comes to muscle growth and maintenance.” 

Stronger for longer: how dairy products support health in the senior years

As we age, excellent nutrition can help us to enjoy a longer, healthier lifespan. Dairy products are a source of many of the nutrients that support stronger bones, maintenance of muscle mass,  andmass, and greater mobility.

Dairy consumption is associated with higher bone mineral density in people of all ages, including those aged 55-plus. Dairy products in the diet can also help maintain and build skeletal muscle and improve balance in those aged 60 or over. 

With stronger bones, more muscle and better balance, the overall effect is that dairy consumption can lead to improved mobility. For example, a study of women in their seventies found increased dairy intake was associated with better grip strength, an improved ability to get up from a chair, more skeletal muscle mass and increased mobility. In short, the researchers described dairy intake as likely to be associated with “greater whole body lean mass and better physical performance”. 

“Including dairy products in your diet can support good nutrition and health outcomes for everyone from children to seniors,” says Anderson. “It’s such a delicious and simple way to incorporate a really nutrient-dense food into your everyday life.”