Investigating the impact of milk consumption on 1000 children aged between three and 13 years old, scientists in New Zealand found that "significantly more of the children who avoided milk reported fractures".
"Children who regularly avoided milk had lower bone mineral density and weighed more, two factors that increase fracture risk," said lead researcher Ailsa Goulding, at the University of Otago, New Zealand.
She estimates that children and adolescents need three to four servings of dairy foods each day to help prevent broken bones now and chronic conditions such as osteoporosis as adults.
The study compared the fracture histories of 50 children who avoided drinking cow's milk for extended periods of time to a group of 1,000 children from the same city, Dunedin, New Zealand.
The children who avoided milk did not eat calcium-rich food substitutes or supplements. Nearly one in three of the young milk-avoiders had broken a bone before they were eight years old, frequently from slight trauma such as a minor trip or fall.
"Forearm fractures were especially common," said the researchers, concluding simply that "young children avoiding milk are prone to fracture".
According to the US-based National Dairy Council, dairy foods provide three quarters of the calcium in the diets of children and adolescents. The daily recommended intake (DRI) for calcium in adolescents aged 12-18 years is 1,300 mg - the equivalent of four servings of milk, cheese or yoghurt. For children aged six to 11, the DRI for calcium is 800 mg or three servings every day.
Full findings of the study 'Children who avoid drinking cow's milk are at increased risk for prepubertal bone fractures' are published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2004; 104(2):250-253.