Study Finds Non-Dairy Milk May Be Stunting Growth

Plant-based milk is more popular than ever, but if you give it to your children, there's something you might want to know.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on June 7 found that kids who regularly consume cow's milk alternatives (like almond, rice or soy milk) tended to be a little shorter than kids who drink cow's milk, with each daily cup of the non-dairy milk correlating to a 0.15-inch height deficit compared to averages for the child's age, according to CNN.

"For example, a 3-year-old child consuming three cups of non-cow's milk relative to cow's milk was on average [0.59 inches] shorter," said the study's lead author, Dr. Jonathon Maguire of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, reports CNN.

There's a catch, though. Maguire said that the study wasn't able to tell whether or not those who drink dairy alternatives "catch up over time," but he pointed out that children tend to stay in similar height percentiles as they grow up.

"It's not like if you're not consuming cow's milk, you're a little shorter," he added. "It's more like if you are consuming non-cow's milk, with each cup that a child consumes, that child on average appears to be a little bit smaller, a little shorter. That's a bit surprising."

That could be alarming for some parents, especially considering that plant-based milk continues to grow in popularity. Indeed, one 2016 report found that almond milk sales have grown 250 percent over the last five years, accounting for 5 percent total milk consumption and making it by far the most popular milk alternative, according to Nielsen.

But not everyone was buying the implication that nut-based and similar milk sources are harmful, while cow's milk is superior.

"It's just odd to me why we wouldn't be looking at the overall diets of the children," Amy Joy Lanou, a professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, told CNN. "If they're making the claim that it's because it's the difference in the types of milk the kids are drinking, well, what else are they eating?"

Experts also questioned whether height and health should be connected, while others pointed out that some milk alternatives are nutritionally better than others, meaning that whether you drink dairy or non-dairy milk, you should always try to learn about the nutritional makeup of your beverages.