Pediatricians Say Dairy OK for Lactose-Intolerant Kids

New guidelines say the American Academy of Pediatrics "supports use of dairy foods as an important source of calcium for bone mineral health and of other nutrients that facilitate growth in children and adolescents." Specifically, it does not recommend eliminating dairy products to treat lactose intolerance.

In practical terms, said Dr. Melvin B. Heyman, a member of the committee that wrote the guidelines, the new advice is for parents of children with lactose intolerance, in collaboration with pediatricians, to "test the system and see how much milk, cheese and ice cream they can tolerate."

One reason for the new advice, said Heyman, who is a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, is that "we have more information about what people will tolerate. We know that children who have lactose intolerance have a tendency to tolerate some dairy products."

At least an equally important factor is the need for the calcium in dairy products, he said. "Young people have to get as much calcium as they can to lower the risk of problems with bones as they get older," Heyman said.

The new guidelines were published in the September issue of the academy's journal, Pediatrics.

An estimated 30 million to 50 million Americans have some degree of intolerance to lactose, the main sugar found in milk and other dairy products. They have a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the sugar, and can experience unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea if they ingest too much lactose.