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Malaysian families not drinking enough milk

Are your kids drinking enough milk daily?


Malaysian families are not drinking enough milk. Generally, an individual would drink more milk as a child, then less as he or she enters school, even less when entering adulthood, and then milk consumption increases again in the senior years.

However, according to Loo Mei Fong, senior nutritionist with Dutch Lady Milk Industries, the trend is lower in Malaysia compared with other Asian countries.

“According to a recent Dutch Lady study, Malaysia's milk consumption is lower compared with other Asian countries. In 2010, Malaysia's per capita consumption was 4.1 litres, while countries like Vietnam were consuming more than 7 litres,” says Loo.

While this pattern is not something new, Loo says that parents should be concerned that their children are not drinking enough milk and getting the nutrients that they could be getting from it.

According to the statistics from the 2003 Malaysian Adult Nutrition Survey (MANS), Malaysians are only taking 0.14 servings of milk and dairy products a day, which is basically one small glass, as compared to the recommended intake which is 1-3 servings per day.

“That's why we advocate milk consumption habits from young. We need to focus on young children and families because studies show that good habits have to be inculcated from young,” says Loo.

Benefits of milk

Humans need 39 essential nutrients including protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. However, milk itself contains as much as 36 essential nutrients, informs Loo.

Besides being an important source of calcium, milk is also a natural source of macro and micronutrients.

“Drinking milk daily ensures children get all the essential nutrients for their physical and mental development. Milk also acts as a healthy beverage as compared to soft drinks or sweetened beverages to replenish the fluid requirements of children,” adds Loo.

She explains that although, families can also get their calcium from cheese and yoghurt, milk is much more nutritious. Besides, the cheese and yoghurt penetration rate in Malaysia is even lower than that of milk. More families are likely to drink milk than take cheese and yoghurt.

Paediatrician Dr Tan Han Tiong agrees, saying that among the consequences of insufficient milk consumption during the growing years is the increased risk of rickets. Rickets is a bone-softening disease that causes poor growth, bow legs and sometimes even muscle pain and weakness. It is caused by a deficiency in calcium and Vitamin D.

“Children who are drinking less milk, and (taking) more fizzy drinks, and getting less exercise are reported to be more prone to fractures, especially in the forearm due to decreased bone mass.

“In addition, teenagers, especially girls, whose diet doesn't provide the nutrients to build bones to their maximum potential are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become less dense and more prone to fractures. It has been called the 'paediatric disease with geriatric consequences'.”

According to Loo, the recommended daily intake of milk and dairy products is:

Children aged 2-4 years – 3 servings;
Children aged 4-6 years – 2 servings; and
Everyone else – 1-3 servings.

Milk options

If a child or teenager is reluctant to drink milk because they think they are too big and milk is only for small children, Loo recommends trying out the various flavoured milks available.

Parents who don't want to opt for packet milk drinks can always make their own smoothies and milkshakes by mixing milk with fruits and blending the mixture.

Loo ... 'parents also need to drink milk to be a good role model for their kids.'

“Sometimes when children go to primary school, they feel they are older now and ask not to drink milk anymore. I think the parents need to continue giving their children milk. To do that, parents also need to drink milk to be a good role model for their kids. When children see their parents drinking milk, they will want to drink it, too. It's very difficult to ask the kids to drink milk, when the parents themselves don't do it,” says Loo.

As for children and adults who are lactose intolerant, Loo recommends helping the body adapt to taking milk. According to her, lactose intolerance is actually common among Asians. She says that generally over 90% of Asians have some degree of lactose intolerance.

The solution is not to eliminate milk and dairy products completely from a child or adult's diet.

“Lactose intolerance is generally the result of lactase deficiency. When a child is lactose intolerant it may manifest in symptoms like diarrhoea and vomiting. There is no way to make our body produce more lactase. However, we can train our body by drinking milk in small portions and gradually increasing the portions.

“All of us may be lactase deficient to a certain extent. So, maybe you cannot tolerate one packet of milk, but you might try with just half a packet. If you can tolerate it, then slowly increase the amount of milk.

“For most people this will work unless you have cow's milk allergy, in which case you can't even take ice-cream. In that situation, a lot of foods will have to be avoided, but cow's milk allergy is quite rare,” explains Loo.

Food pyramid for Malaysian children

These are the food pyramid recommendations for Malaysian children's daily needs:

Rice and cereal products
2-4 years – 2 servings
4-6 years – 3 servings
Example of 1 serving: 1 cup of cooked rice (2 scoops)

2-6 years – 2 servings
Example of 1 serving: ½ cup of green leafy vegetable with edible stems

2-6 years – 2 servings
Example of 1 serving: 1 slice of papaya or 1 medium-sized banana

Meats & Legumes
2-4 years – 1 serving of fish
4-6 years - ½ serving of fish + ¼ serving of chicken/meat/egg + ¼ serving of legumes
Example of 1 serving: 1 medium-sized kembong (mackerel fish), 1 medium-sized chicken drumstick, 1 cup of beans, 1 ½ pieces of tofu

Milk & dairy products
2-4 years – 3 servings
4-6 years – 2 servings
Example of 1 serving: 1 cup of milk (240ml), 1 cup of yoghurt, 1 slice of cheese

Extra nutrients

With many age-appropriate milk variants available in the market today, what are the consequences of a child aged four trying out a milk specially formulated for those six and older, or vice versa?

Loo explains that not all milk formulations are the same. For example, the Dutch Lady Kid is for children under six years old while the School variant is for those aged six to 12.

“The nutrients formulated in the Dutch Lady Kid are to cater to that rapid growth because it is fortified with Vitamins A and D, calcium and magnesium. Dutch Lady School, meanwhile, is for children aged six to 12 when they have already entered formal education and need something to help increase their attention span so that they can focus better in school. Therefore Dutch Lady School is fortified with Omega 3, Omega 6 – these are good for the brain cells and also fortified with Vitamins B3 and B6 which helps the energy to be released from the nutrients so that they can do more tasks.

“While these two milk variants are optimised for those age groups, there is no harm if a bigger child tries out the Kid and a smaller child tries out the School variant. There won't be any damage - it is just that the milk variants are optimised for those age groups.”

To set themselves apart, milk manufacturers often come up with new formulations to cater to different segments of society.

This sometimes makes it harder for parents to choose which milks to get their kids. Should they get the one with extra DHA or the one with less sugar?

Ultimately, it is up to parents and their preferences. Parents are encouraged to read the labels carefully before choosing what milk to buy for their family.

“Milk naturally contains a lot of nutrients. However, having extra DHA in a milk product would be an additional benefit. While DHA is not an essential nutrient from a conventional nutritional perspective, studies have shown that children's bodies are not able to produce sufficient DHA from Omega 3 and 6. That's why the milk fortified with DHA helps with the child's absorption and his or her development will be much better.

“While it would be best if they get all the recommended daily nutrients from their diet, we have to keep in mind how much fish a child is willing to consume. If it is too fishy, the child might not want it. These extra nutrients in milk provide additional benefits. I would say it isn't absolutely necessary but it would give the child an extra benefit,” explains Loo.


Speaking on the food pyramid recommendations and how Malaysians fare, Loo says that according to the 2003 MANS, Malaysians are taking enough carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits; they are consuming more meat than they should; and insufficient milk and dairy products.

“Parents should be concerned that their family is not drinking enough milk. I would strongly urge parents to continue giving their children milk even if they are in primary or secondary school. To do so, they themselves need to be good role models by drinking milk,” she says.

Win a RM100,000 scholarship for your child

Here's your chance to win an Apple iPad 2, Asus eeePC netbook or scholarships worth RM100,000, RM30,000 or RM15,000.

All you have to do is enter Dutch Lady's “Peraduan Kumpul Huruf & Menang” (Collect the Letters & Win) contest.

The contest started on March 1 and ends April 30.

There are 93 Apple iPad 2 (16GB WiFi) units to be won in March, and 90 Asus eeePC netbooks to be won in April. In addition, all participants will also stand a chance to win scholarships worth RM100,000, RM30,000 and RM15,000 respectively.

To participate in the “Peraduan Kumpul Huruf & Menang” contest, parents will need to buy the Dutch Lady Kid and Dutch Lady School packets. Under each packet of milk, there is a letter of the alphabet. They will need to cut out these letters with the barcode, then collect various letters to form the predetermined words for the month.

In March, the predetermined words are “calcium” or “less.” In April, they are “less” or “omega.”

Only the related letters will be on the bottom of the packs, so there is no risk of getting a “z” or “x.”

Contest forms can be obtained from most supermarkets and stores that sell the Dutch Lady milk. They can also be downloaded and printed from www.dutchlady.com.my.

For more information, go to www.parenthots.com/news_and_events/news/Dutch-Lady-contest-offers-RM100,000-scholarship.aspx.