Cow's milk has been talked about more and more lately. While parents have been told for decades to make sure their children are drinking a cup of milk at every meal, many people are starting to question whether dairy is actually healthy. A recent study conducted at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto found a relationship between the consumption of dairy alternatives and height in children, adding more information to the dairy debate.

Cow's milk vs dairy free milk

Recently, dairy-free milk has become more and more popular with many people choosing to replace cow's milk with rice, almond, or soy beverages.

In recent years, the non-dairy industry has exploded, more than doubling its revenue between 2009 and 2015. It is now more than a $21 billion dollar industry according to the Financial Times, showing just how popular these dairy-free alternatives are.

Dr. Jonathon Maguire headed a study at St. Micheal's Hospital in Toronto, Canada which was designed to see the impact of dairy-free milk in children's height. The research involved just over 5,000 children ages 2-6, equally split between male and female participants. 84 percent of these children consumed exclusively cow's milk, 5 percent drank only dairy-free alternatives, 8 percent consumed both, and 3 percent did not drink either.

Each glass of nondairy milk correlated to 0.4 cm height difference

What makes Maguire's study so unique is not that it discovered a height difference between dairy and non-dairy drinkers, but rather that the difference in height was related to how much children were consuming. This was a surprising discovery. Non-dairy drinkers were found to be 0.4 cm shorter for every glass of dairy-free milk they consumed per day.

This is not a tremendous difference if the child is only drinking one cup of a day, but as they consume more and more, this difference does start to add up. Maguire points out that if a child is drinking a cup of dairy-free milk at every meal, a total of 3 cups a day, they tend to be about half an inch shorter than their peers.

He emphasizes that although it may not seem like a big difference, it is significant for in children of this age.

Debate around this new research

Maguire's study which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is certainly not without critics. Amy Joy Lanou, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, has spent much of her career studying the effect of cow's milk on health, which has led her to strongly advocate against its consumption. Her big issue with the study was on its emphasis on height as a determinate for health. She points out that height does not always mean that a child is healthier and that healthier adults are not always taller. Another issue people are finding with the study is that it fails to acknowledge whether this height difference persists into adulthood or if children eventually catch up with their peers.