No cut to milk for under-fives, but new guide slashes intake for older children

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Early years settings are being advised that they should not lower the dairy intake for pre-schoolers, in light of revised guidance.


Children under-five should consume three portions of dairy a day

The new Eatwell Guide, from Public Health England, has almost halved the previous recommended proportion of milk and dairy products in the daily diet of children aged five and over and adults, in favour of greater carbohydrate intake.

The daily recommended amount for milk and dairy products has been cut from 15 per cent to eight per cent, in favour of increasing carbohydrate intake.

However Public Health England has confirmed to Nursery World that official advice on dairy and fats for under-fives has not changed.

The updated guide shows the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have a well-balanced and healthy diet, and replaces the Eatwell plate.

Public Health England said it has been revised in response to research on carbohydrates that came out last July from the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).

Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said, ‘The Eatwell guide does not reflect dietary advice for nursery aged children under the age of five. The Eatwell guide makes clear that lower fat milks, water and sugar-free drinks all count towards your six to eight glasses of fluids a day.

‘While dairy products form an important part of a healthy balanced diet, many are high in saturated fat which on average we are eating too much of increasing our risk of heart disease. For those aged five years and above, the Eatwell guide helps to reduce saturated fat consumption while still meeting all nutrient recommendations including for calcium. It’s important to remember that we get calcium from across the diet, not just from dairy.’

The Children’s Food Trust states that standard advice for children aged two to five is three portions of dairy a day.

Commenting on the updated guidance, Children’s Food Trust head of nutrition, Dr Patricia Mucavele, said, ‘The Eatwell guide is used in classrooms every day to help children learn about what a healthy diet means. And what children will now see when they look at this is how much they should eat overall from each food group and the types of foods and drinks they should have, which is great progress. We’re particularly pleased to see that water is being promoted. 

‘We still think there’s a clear place for better information on what makes a healthy portion size for children at different ages to help parents at the supermarket, in restaurants, and when they’re cooking for children at home. We look forward to progress on this to support the Government's wider work to reduce child obesity.’


However, the School and Nursery Milk Alliance slammed the cut to milk and dairy intake and questioned the increased role of carbohydrates, in light of the obesity crisis.

Dr Hilary Jones, the Alliance’s spokesperson, spokesperson for the School and Nursery Milk Alliance, said, ‘While we should welcome the inclusion of healthier drinks within the Eatwell guide for the first time, we should also be concerned at the decision to reduce the role of milk and dairy products.

'The public need to be encouraged to drink more water or unsweetened drinks. But we need to be realistic. Many people, including children, will prefer not to drink plain water, so it’s important we’re advising on healthy alternatives.

‘Milk is a great source of proteins, minerals, vitamins and energy. If children, young people, or adults would rather not drink water, milk is an excellent alternative and one that should be promoted, rather than its role seemingly being reduced.

‘We should also question why the roles of dairy and high protein foods such as meat or fish have been reduced in favour of carbohydrates, when we know high GI starchy foods are a major contributor to the obesity crisis.’

The guidance has also been heavily criticised by Dairy UK and the Dairy All-Party Parliamentary Group.  

Heather Wheeler MP said, ‘We are sorely disappointed by Public Health England’s decision to reduce the dairy food group in the new Eatwell guide.

‘The Dairy All-Party Parliamentary Group just released a report which highlights the essential role of dairy products in a healthy and balanced diet, based on robust evidence provided by nutrition and health experts. This evidence is widely available and it is therefore both puzzling and frustrating to see that official dietary guidelines would not rely on it.’

Dr Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, said, ‘The dairy industry was not consulted during this process and had no opportunity to give scientific evidence or help prevent serious flaws in the guidelines. For example, we do not believe that vulnerable groups such as breastfeeding women or teenage girls can practically meet their needs for calcium or iodine using the new Eatwell plate.

‘We need to understand how Public Health England reached their conclusions. Therefore, we will request all documents behind this decision and we will conduct our own modelling once these documents are made available.’

Public Health England Advice

  • breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for babies;
  • cows’ milk should not be given as a drink to babies until they are 12 months old;
  • whole milk should be given to children until they are two years old, as they need the extra energy and vitamins it contains;
  • semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once children are two years old, as long as they're a good eater and they have a varied diet;
  • skimmed and 1 per cent milk is not suitable for children under five, as they do not contain enough calories.

The Children's Food Trust's guidance, Eat Better, Start Better, Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings in England –A Practical Guide, can be found here.

NHS Advice on What to feed young children

Download the Eat Well Guide


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