Compulsory milk policy in schools needs to be revisited

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If cows which provide milk eat grass as a source of calcium, why don’t we also learn to eat ‘grass’ to achieve the same nutrients especially if it is cheaper than milk?

My siblings and I were accustomed to our father returning home with a pint of milk daily. If he didn’t, it was a sign that daddy was strapped for cash.

Many children in the past or present consume cow’s milk after weaning off from breastmilk.

Unlike in households where milk is considered unaffordable and to children who had allergic reactions to its consumption, milk has for generations topped among diets for children as many transport the appetite into adulthood.

But is it the best option after breastmilk?

My mother to whom we so often allude: "mummy amata bwe gamulema okunywa nga awo tumanya embeera mbi," loosely translated to mean ‘if Mummy failed to drink milk, then it is an ominous sign’.

Does milk carry the best nutrient composition for children such that the government of Uganda must decree it compulsory for school children?

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Milk contains animal proteins which are superior to plant proteins which children need for growth in addition to calcium for bone development according to Dr. Nicolette Nabukeera Barungi an associate professor of a paediatrician at Mulago Hospital.

Other nutrients include; iodine, magnesium and vitamin B12.

In an ideal world, Dr. Nabukeera says it would be great for children especially those in primary school and day care to have mandatory milk because of the benefits, however, most schools and parents cannot afford it.

"The problem is forcing [schools to provide] milk where they cannot afford it. They will just dilute the milk too much that it will be milky water and children will not benefit from it. Let them encourage milk in schools but provide alternative for those who cannot afford it," Dr. Nabukeera said.

She concurs with government’s need to improve the health of children noting that school diets are poor lacking fruits, vegetables which are essential aside from milk.

But Nutritional expert Dr. Paul Kasenene has a contrasting view,.

He says cows that are meant to be the source of calcium through their milk, do not drink milk as a way to get calcium into their milk.

"Cows are actually eating grass and plant-based foods as a source of calcium," Dr. Kasenene said.

"Just have more legumes, beans and groundnuts available. Have soy, more seeds; pumpkin seeds, sim-sim seeds, leafy vegetables, more fruits, avocados and have schools grow them a direction the country should be taking."

Out with milk, in with plants

Dr Kasenene says plants, not milk, are the match maker. He says a policy that advocates for an increase in availability of plant-based or green vegetable policies would encourage schools to grow small gardens with green leafy vegetables to serve children and increase access to calcium that is needed in a more practical, affordable and cheaper cost.

Even though magnesium is stated as another nutrient from milk, Dr. Kasenene notes it is abundant in beans, nuts, avocados and in so many foods that are easily available and they are the best foods to consider because, ‘they don’t easily go bad a characteristic of good food.

The statistics among people struggling with digestion of cow’s milk with lactose intolerance heightens since by age three as Dr. Kasenene explains, many children have a reduction in the enzyme called lactase which digests the lactose from milk.

Unless under circumstances where there is moderate- severe nutritional compromise almost bordering to malnutrition and the only food available is milk, then it should be decreed compulsory because it would be better than nothing at all, other than that, Dr. Kasenene advises government to focus and increase production of plant-based foods.






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