Is cow's milk harmful to a child's health?

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2011 Dec;53(6):594-600. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e318235b23e.


Discussions and debates have recently emerged on the potential positive and negative effects of cow's milk in the paediatric community, also under the pressure of public opinion. The negative effects of cow's-milk consumption seem to be limited to iron status up to 9 to 12 months; then no negative effects are observed, provided that cow's milk, up to a maximum daily intake of 500 mL, is adequately complemented with iron-enriched foods. Lactose intolerance can be easily managed and up to 250 mL/day of milk can be consumed. Allergy to cow's-milk proteins is usually transient. Atopic children may independently be at risk for poor growth, and the contribution of dairy nutrients to their diet should be considered. The connection of cow's milk to autistic spectrum disorders is lacking, and even a cause-effect relation with type 1 diabetes mellitus has not been established because many factors may concur. Although it is true that cow's milk stimulates insulin-like growth factor-1 and may affect linear growth, association with chronic degenerative, noncommunicable diseases has not been established. Finally, fat-reduced milk, if needed, should be considered after 24 to 36 months. Cow's milk represents a major source of high nutritional quality protein as well as of calcium. Moreover, it has growth-promoting effects independent of specific compounds. Its protein and fat composition, together with the micronutrient content, is suggestive of a functional food, whose positive effects are emphasised by regular consumption, particularly under conditions of diets poor in some limiting nutrients, although in industrialised countries cow's milk's optimal daily intake should be around 500 mL, adequately complemented with other relevant nutrients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / physiopathology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / analysis
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / analysis
  • Food Hypersensitivity / metabolism
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1 / drug effects
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Lactase / deficiency
  • Lactase / metabolism
  • Lactose Intolerance / metabolism
  • Lactose Intolerance / physiopathology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Milk / adverse effects*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Nutritive Value


  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • IGFBP1 protein, human
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Lactase