Feature articles

Milk intake in Australian children

Nutrition Research Australia, headed up by Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore, was commissioned by Nestle to perform a secondary analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey exploring what Australian kids are eating (and drinking). We summarise her ‘deep dive into milk consumption’ research.

Research methodology

The secondary analysis used the first 24-hour dietary recall data of 2812 children and adolescents aged 2-18 years. The data were weighted to the Australian population and lineal models used to adjust for energy, demographic, anthropometric and lifestyle variables.


Milk: dairy, fluid, including powdered milk but excluding evaporated and condensed milk

Flavoured milk: plain milk with flavouring (sugar, honey, syrup, topping, cocoa powder, malt powder, beverage base), including pre-made beverages and fortified flavoured milk

Other milk: milk in other forms not defined above such as milk on cereal, milkshake, smoothie, thick shake or milk in cooking



  • The majority of children consumed milk, with almost two-thirds consuming it as a beverage. Of those milk drinkers, 46% drank it plain, 32% drank it flavoured and 21% drank ‘other milk’ such as milkshakes and smoothies.
  • Plain milk was the most commonly consumed with a mean intake of 339g/day, followed by flavoured milk with a mean intake of 296g/day.
  • Fifty two percent of flavoured milk drinkers consumed a fortified flavoured milk.
  • Milk consumption decreased with age. Fifty three percent of 2-3-year old’s drank plain milk, compared with only 11% of 14-18 year old’s. Adolescents 14-18 yrs had the lowest intake of plain milk and were the highest group with no milk intake (26% were ‘milk avoiders’). This was the only group in which flavoured milk was more popular than plain milk. The highest prevalence of flavoured milk drinking was in the 9-13 yr age group.


  • Plain and flavoured milk drinkers had the highest consumption of dairy foods vs milk-avoiders who had the lowest.
  • Drinking milk was the driver of total dairy intake. However there was no difference in other dairy intake (yoghurt, cheese) between milk intake groups.

Nutrient intake

  • Plain and flavoured milk drinkers had the highest calcium, phosphorous and iodine intakes.
  • Flavoured milk drinkers had a higher iron intake than plain milk drinkers, likely due to the flavoured milks being fortified (one in two drank fortified flavoured milk).
  • About three-quarters of plain and flavoured milk drinkers met calcium targets, compared to less than 40% of all other children.



 Image Copyright Nestle Australia, used with permission

Sugars intake

  • Plain milk drinkers had the lowest percent energy contribution from free sugars and were the least likely to exceed the WHO 10% Energy from free sugars target.
  • Plain milk drinkers had the lowest energy contribution from discretionary free sugars.
  • Children who drank ‘other milk’ (eg milkshakes) were the most likely to exceed the WHO 10% target.
  • Plain and flavoured milk drinkers were least likely to consume sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) (less than half consumed SSBs), while milk-avoiders and ‘other milk’ drinkers were the most likely to consume SSBs (59% of each group).
  • Children who did not drink plain or flavoured milk were more likely to drink sugar sweetened beverages such as soft drinks (SSBs).

Profiles of milk consumer groups

  • Milk consumption (plain, flavoured, other milk, or avoiders) was not associated with BMI z-score or waist-height ratio, which indicate overweight/obesity.
  • Levels of physical activity only significantly differed in one milk intake group: over 80% of 18-year old plain and flavoured milk drinkers met physical activity recommendations compared to less than half for all other milk intake groups.

You can access the study report here.


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