Milk and growth in children: effects of whey and casein

Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program. 2011;67:67-78. doi: 10.1159/000325576. Epub 2011 Feb 16.


Consumption of cow's milk is recommended in many countries. Observational and intervention studies show that cow's milk most likely has a positive influence on growth in children. The strongest evidence comes from observational studies and intervention studies in low-income countries, but there are also observational studies from high-income countries showing positive associations between milk intake and growth. Milk seems thus to have a specific stimulating effect on linear growth, not only in developing countries with high rates of malnutrition, but also in industrialized countries. However, it is not known which components in milk stimulate growth. Possible components are proteins, minerals, vitamins or combinations of these. Cow's milk proteins have a high protein quality, and whey has a slightly higher quality than casein, according to some indices based on amino acid composition. Studies, mainly from sport medicine, have suggested that whey protein also has the potential to increase muscle mass. Whether whey improves body composition to a larger extent than other milk proteins is not clear. The mechanism behind a possible growth-stimulating effect of milk and milk components is likely to be through a stimulation of insulin-like growth factor-I synthesis and maybe insulin secretion. In conclusion, there is strong evidence that milk stimulates linear growth. The mechanism is not yet clear, and more intervention studies are needed to understand which components in milk are responsible for the growth stimulation. The effects of milk on linear growth and adult height may have both positive and negative long-term implications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Height / drug effects
  • Body Height / physiology*
  • Caseins / administration & dosage*
  • Caseins / pharmacology
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Milk Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Milk Proteins / pharmacology
  • Milk* / adverse effects
  • Milk* / metabolism
  • Nutritive Value
  • Whey Proteins


  • Caseins
  • Insulin
  • Milk Proteins
  • Whey Proteins
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I