Women in Northern Ireland are not drinking enough milk

Older girls five times less likely to drink milk

21 April, 2008. A review of the milk supply chain on the island of Ireland has revealed that young women and teenage girls should increase their consumption of milk to improve their calcium intake. The review undertaken by safefood also highlights that consumers have few concerns with regard to the safety of milk and the industry enforcement controls that are in place.

Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood commented: “It is clear from this review that while nine out of ten people on the island drink milk and over half drink it on more than one occasion a day, young women  and teenage girls would benefit from drinking more, as it is an excellent source of calcium. Recent research has revealed that 23% of women are not currently meeting the recommended intake of calcium and furthermore, older girls were five times less likely to drink milk compared with younger children and adolescent boys.”

Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood added, “safefood research has revealed a perception amongst women and teenage girls that milk is a high fat food. Milk is neither a high fat nor a high saturated fat food and contains many essential nutrients including protein, calcium and the water soluble B vitamins required for a healthy diet. Many adults are rightly concerned about their overall fat intake and choosing semi skimmed and skimmed milk varieties with their reduced fat content are a good alternative to full fat milk, without losing out on valuable nutrients.”

“While most people are aware of the benefits of milk as a source of calcium and in bone development for infants and young children, there is a common misconception that the benefits are of less importance as people grow older, which is not the case. Research shows that Northern Ireland households with children drink more whole milk compared with those without. Additionally, there is increasing evidence of a positive role for milk and other dairy products in other diet related conditions such as cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. Dietary guidelines in Northern Ireland recommend one sixth of daily consumption of food should be from milk and dairy products, which equates to approximately three portions per day for adults. A 200ml glass of milk6 represents one of these portions”, she added. 

In recent years there has been a slight increase in the consumption of milk, but there has been an overall decline in per capita consumption on the island of Ireland and in the EU, with consumer trends showing increased consumer favour towards water, juices and soft drinks over milk.

“Milk is a healthy alternative to soft drinks, which are high in sugar and parents can act as role models by encouraging milk drinking and keeping plain milk on the menu. There has also been an increase in the number of flavoured milks available, which offer an option for children who do not like the taste of plain milk. However, due to their higher sugar content they should be consumed as a treat and with meals for dental health.”

The safefood review also revealed that, in spite of the well-documented evidence in support of pasteurisation, some individuals and, in particular farm families drink unpasteurised or raw milk. Two out of every three families who drink raw milk continue to do so, despite acknowledging the risks.

This review is the latest in a series by safefood which examines how food is produced, processed, sold and consumed on the island of Ireland and includes research into consumers’ awareness and perceptions of nutrition and food safety issues surrounding milk. Previous reviews have looked at the chicken, finfish and fruit, vegetable and beef food chains.


For further information please contact

Leanne McCarroll/Susie Rea  Fiona Gilligan/Dermot Moriarty
Smarts     safefood
Tel: 028 90 39 5500    Tel: 00 353 1 4480600

Editor’s Notes

Other sources of calcium in the diet include fish containing soft bones, green leafy vegetables, bread and foods containing flour, pulses (beans and lentils), nuts and calcium fortified foods.


  •  A Review of the Milk Supply Chain; safefood (2007)
  •  North South Ireland Food Consumption Survey
  • ³  Eating for Health study in Northern Ireland
  •  Codex Alimentarius, A food with a fat content greater than or equal to 20% is classified as a high fat food, while a food with a fat content less than or equal to 3% is classified as a low fat food. 
  • A food with a saturated fat content greater than or equal to 5% is classified as a high saturated fat food, while a food with a saturated fat content less than or equal to 1.5% is classified as a low saturated fat food.
  • 6 A 125g pot of yoghurt or 1oz (aopprox 30g) cheese each represents a serving of dairy

Additional findings of the Review

  • The safefood review also revealed little understanding of the differences between milk allergy and lactose intolerance. Milk allergy is an immune system dysfunction, whereas lactose intolerance is due to the deficiency in the enzyme lactase and is more common in adults. Allergy to cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in childhood, and effects between 2% and 7% of babies under one year of age. The allergy is more likely to develop in children from families with a history of allergies disease, however, the prognosis with childhood allergy is good with up to 90% of cases resolving by aged three years.
  • As reduced fat milks have lower energy and fat soluble vitamin content, semi skimmed or low fat milk should not be introduced until two years and skimmed or fat free from aged five years provided that the child is a good eater and has a healthy diet. 
  • Whole cows’ milk is not suitable as a drink for infants under 12 months due to its low iron content. Before the age of 12 months breast milk is recommended but in the event of alternative feeding, formula or follow-on milks from six months may be used. Cows’ milk can, however, be added in small amounts to foods to soften from six months onwards.