Yet another good reason for children to guzzle milk – it keeps them fit right through to old age
Elderly people who ate the most dairy foods in childhood could walk 5% faster
They were also 25% less likely to have potentially dangerous balance problems
Findings are important because those over 65 who break a hip have a 20% chance of dying within a year
By PAT HAGAN
Children who regularly drink milk are physically fitter in old age, according to new research.
It found elderly people who consumed the highest amounts of milk and dairy foods in childhood were able to walk faster and were much less likely to suffer problems with balance.
The findings, by researchers at Bristol University, could be important because poor balance raises the risk of fractures in old age.
One in three people aged over 65 suffers a serious fall at least once a year.
According to the charity Age UK, falls costs in the region of £1.8 billion a year in terms of treatment and care of those affected.
One of the most common problems is hip fractures, often due to underlying osteoporosis.
Those over 65 who break a hip have a 20 per cent chance of dying within a year.
Consumption of milk, cheese and other dairy produce has long been thought to help build strong bones by providing much-needed calcium during childhood.
Researchers from the university’s School of Social and Community Medicine wanted to see if the benefits of milk consumption early in life lasted through to later years.
They studied 400 men and women aged from their mid-60s to late 80s.
They had all taken part in a study which began back in the 1930s to analyse the affect of diet and lifestyle on long-term health.
As part of the study, the volunteers, who were then all young children, were tracked for their intake of milk and dairy goods.
To test if this had any impact on health in old age, the volunteers were tested for their walking speeds and their balance.
The results, published in the journal Age and Ageing, showed milk-lovers had five per cent faster walking times than those who drank little or no milk.
They were also 25 per cent less likely to have potentially dangerous balance problems.
In a report on their findings the researchers said: ‘This is the first study to show positive associations of childhood milk intake with physical performance in old age.’
The findings support earlier research highlighting the health benefits of drinking milk as a youngster.
Last year, a study found children who drank school milk were up to 40 per cent less likely to suffer bowel cancer as adults.
The disease kills more than 16,000 people a year in the UK.
Pupils were 20 per cent less likely to suffer a tumour later in life if they had milk every day for at least four to six years and 40 per cent less likely if they were given milk for six years or more.
It’s thought long-term milk consumption allows high levels of calcium to accumulate in the body, protecting the bowel against damage from toxic bile acid.
Primary schools have not received free milk since 1971, when then education secretary Margaret Thatcher ditched the scheme – earning her the nickname ‘Milksnatcher’.
Under the current Nursery Milk Scheme, up to one-third of a pint of free milk a day is provided to children under five in approved day care facilities
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