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New Study Suggests Schools Should Offer Soymilk: Low-Fat Beverage Proves a Popular Option Among Young Students

Schoolchildren in Florida like to have choices about where they get their calcium. In a study in April’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers with The Cancer Project found that when young students were offered soymilk in the school lunch line, almost a quarter of them chose the calcium-rich, nondairy beverage over cow’s milk.

The study, which was conducted at three ethnically diverse elementary schools, also found that offering soymilk boosts the number of students who select some kind of calcium-rich beverage in the lunch line and reduces the amount of saturated fat consumed from calcium-rich beverages. The findings suggest that students’ health could benefit if schools offered soymilk in the lunch line.

“Soymilk has major health advantages over cow’s milk,” said Jennifer Reilly, R.D., a dietitian with The Cancer Project and the study’s lead author. “It avoids the problem of lactose intolerance and skips the ‘bad’ fats—and many kids prefer it.”

school lunch

Soymilk avoids the problem of lactose intolerance and skips
the “bad” fats—and many kids prefer it.

The majority of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans are lactose intolerant, and the condition often begins in childhood. Enriched soymilk has no lactose and little or no saturated fat, but it has as much calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D as dairy milk. Dairy milk is the single largest source of saturated fat—a leading contributor to coronary disease—in children’s diets, according to a National Cancer Institute study.

There may be other long-term health benefits to kicking the dairy habit. In February, a report from the Harvard School of Public Health found a higher risk of ovarian cancer among women with increased intakes of lactose, the primary sugar in dairy milk.1 The analysis included 12 prospective cohort studies with a total of 553,217 women, 2,132 of whom developed ovarian cancer. The analysis found a 19 percent increase in risk for those consuming more than 30 grams of lactose per day, the equivalent of three or more servings of dairy milk.

Dairy products have been linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer, apparently due to their effects on a man’s hormones. This evidence comes from two major Harvard studies, one involving nearly 21,000 physicians and the other studying 48,000 health professionals.2,3 The men in these studies who steered clear of dairy cut their risk by as much as 25 percent to 40 percent.

Most U.S. schools do not offer soymilk, in part because the National School Lunch Program, which serves low-cost and free meals to children, offers no reimbursable alternative to dairy milk without a note from a doctor. This study offers strong support for changing that policy.

1. Genkinger JM, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, et al. Dairy products and ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 12 cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006;15:364-372.
2. Chan JM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J, et al. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk in the Physicians’ Health Study. Presentation, American Association for Cancer Research, San Francisco, April 2000.
3. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Wolk A, et al. Calcium and fructose intake in relation to risk of prostate cancer. Cancer Res. 1998a;58:442-447.


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