The froth over milk Doctors disagree over value of getting calcium from milk

October 06, 1992|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

Telephones have been ringing, fax lines humming and opinions flowing after a group of prominent doctors last week issued an announcement that cow's milk is for cows, not humans.

A week ago, four doctors, including Frank A. Oski, director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, and the 90-year-old Benjamin Spock, supreme potentate-emeritus of baby doctors, held a news conference in Boston to denounce cow's milk.

In a preview here the day before, Dr. Oski said: "There is no nutritional reason why anyone should drink milk."

His statement was the latest in a spate of reports that either heaped praise or cast doubt upon that staple of childhood -- milk. Indeed, a Boston University study published in May indicated that drinking milk lowers blood pressure in children aged 3 to 6 years while another recent study indicated that cow's milk may trigger juvenile diabetes. With each new report the milk issue became more cloudy.

"We've surely had a lot of phone calls since [the press conference] said Dr. Felix L. Kauffman, a Towson pediatrician. "It got a lot of parents upset."

And a lot of doctors.

Following the press conference, dissenting opinions quickly became available by fax or phone from well-known medical groups such as the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Americans for Medical Progress, American Dietetic Association, among others. The AMA headlined its statement: "AMA blasts animal rights group on milk panic." Milk industry trade groups also made public their disagreement.

The press conference was sponsored by the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit Washington organization that promotes preventive medicine and deals with issues in human and animal research.

Although Dr. Oski is not a member of PCRM, his anti-milk stance has been public for 10 years since his book, "Don't Drink Your Milk," was published. At the press conference he urged that children obtain their dietary calcium requirements through green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, collard greens or spinach.

The PCRM also stated that breast-feeding should be recommended as the preferred method of infant feeding, parents be alerted to potential milk risks to their children, cow's milk should not be required or recommended in government guidelines, and that government programs, such as school lunches and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program should be consistent with the above recommendations.

Debbie Bangledorf, spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Children's Center, said the recommendations expressed by Dr. Oski are his own and that Hopkins has taken "no institutional stance" on the issue. "Some physicians don't agree with him, including a couple in the Children's Center," she said.

Dr. Oski could not be reached for comment.

Despite the seemingly contradictory studies, most pediatricians still advise parents to include cow's milk, which contains fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, in children's diets after a year of breast or formula feeding. Both the PCRM and the mainstream medical groups recommend breast-feeding for infants in their first year of life.

"It's hard for parents to read these stories and hear television and radio reports and not have questions," said Dr. R. Scott Strahlman, 35, of the 23-doctor pediatrics department of Columbia Medical Planhealth maintenance organization. "I've attempted to re-assure parents. I think most pediatricians are saying: All things in moderation. That's a good rule to live by."

Water and juices also make good drinks for children, but doctors caution that many juices contain a high sugar content.

Dr. Medhat S. Shaaban, 36, a pediatrician at St. Joseph Hospital, agreed.

"All along, I have told parents not to give children too much milk," he said. "I haven't told them to cut out milk completely. I have great respect for Dr. Oski's research in the field. But until we have more data, I will continue to emphasize moderation."

Pediatricians generally rely on the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics: breast-feeding (preferred) or iron-fortified formula for the first 12 months of life but absolutely no cow's milk, because of risk of anemia; whole milk because fat is needed from age 1 to 2; low-fat milk fine after that.

"The academy will not be altering its recommendation that milk be a standard part of children's diets," the AAP statement said.

And cow's milk recommendations are unlikely to be removed from government guidelines or programs, says Susan Acker, spokeswoman for the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers school lunch, WIC and food stamp programs.

"We have no plans to tell schools to stop serving milk," said Ms. Acker.

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