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Is Milk Good or Bad for You?

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Featured Media Resource: VIDEO: The Chocolate Milk Debate (ABC News)
Learn about the potentially negative effects of high-calorie, high-sugar chocolate milk in elementary school lunchrooms, forcing us to rethink age-old beliefs on the health value of milk.

Get the latest on this topic from the new Above the Noise episode Is It Time For You To Ditch Meat and Dairy?


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Do the potential health risks of drinking milk outweigh its high nutritional content? What do you think?  #DoNowUMilk

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Learn More about the Health Benefits and Risks of Drinking Milk

Got Milk? From 1993 through 2014, the American public was familiar with this catchphrase and popular advertising campaign. However, facing sluggish sales in light of a growing market for other beverages, the milk industry has shifted focus with a new “Milk Life” campaign, highlighting the nutritional benefits of the former dietary staple. Since dropping the catchphrase in 2014, the industry has faced a bigger question: should you have milk? With both proponents and opponents using nutritional support in their cases for and against traditional cow’s milk, is dairy as good as some say or as bad as others say?

Nutrition label for a single serving of reduced-fat (2%) milk.
Nutrition label for a single serving of reduced-fat (2%) milk. (FDA)

The research supporting the avoidance of milk calls on a variety of compelling health statistics. A single serving of whole milk contains 20% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of saturated fats and up to 24 mg of cholesterol. Because dairy products contribute to the overall saturated fat, calorie, and cholesterol content of the diet, they also contribute to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes ). Other studies have shown milk and other dairy products linked to prostate cancer in men and ovarian cancer in women. But what about milk being good for school-aged children? Although milk is a great calcium source, the animal proteins in dairy can have a calcium leaching-effect. Because of this, researchers are reevaluating milk’s relationship to bone health. For example, a Swedish study determined that women who drank milk were more likely to develop fractures than women who drank little to no milk. Additional studies have shown that the consumption of cow’s milk correlates to prevalence of acne in girls and boys. And, although the effects aren’t certain, the antibiotics pumped into cows may lead to antibiotic resistance in humans who consume milk and other dairy products. Lastly, 75% of the world’s adult population is intolerant to lactose, the sugar found in many milk products, suggesting that the human body is not suited for extended consumption of dairy.


However, milk is one of the most nutrient-rich beverages a human can consume. It contains a little bit of everything we need: calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamins B1 and B6, selenium, zinc and magnesium. The complex set of fatty acids in milk are also beneficial to our health. Some studies indicate a link between consuming dairy products and a lowered risk of hypertension, certain cancers, and coronary heart disease.  In terms of bone health, although countries with low dairy consumption have less cases of osteoporosis, the majority of evidence supports that calcium from dairy promotes bone density, limits osteoporosis, and prevents fractures in the elderly population. This paradox remains unexplained, though confirmed by Swedish research indicating both higher mortality in women and men and higher risk of hip fracture in women with increased milk consumption. The same effects were not seen with consumption of non-milk dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt, so lactose or galactose may be the culprit since they are present in milk but are found at much lower levels in other dairy foods.

What do you think? Is milk  good or bad for you? Do the potential health risks of drinking milk outweigh the high nutritional content it offers?

More Resources

Article: Authority Nutrition
Is Dairy Bad For You, or Good? The Milky, Cheesy Truth
This article introduces an argument for why dairy is bad for humans and also explains the nutritional benefits that milk provides consumers.

Infographic: The Dairy Council of California
How Milk, Cheese and Yogurt Benefit Your Health
This infographic shows the percentage of RDA of all the nutrients found in milk, and also demonstrates the various health benefits dairy products have for the body.

Article: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
11 Reasons to Stop Drinking Cow’s Milk
This article discusses 11 reasons that milk is bad for your health.

Website: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?
This site look at the link between calcium and healthy bones, and whether or not milk should be a main source of calcium.

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This post was written by Kayla Ostrom, Adeline Fulmer, Julia Hagaman, Heather Ramsey and Elaina Carlisle, students at Lipscomb University.

KQED Do Now U is a bi-weekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today’s most pressing problems.

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