Don’t Drink Your Milk, by Frank Oski MD (Book Review Pedcast)

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Don’t Drink Your Milk

A friend of mine who you may know, Dr. Sheila Kilbane, a frequent guest on, recently gave me a book that she considers a classic of childhood nutrition. The book was written by a pediatrician that every pediatrician of my era is familiar with, Dr. Frank Oski. Dr. Oski was not only the Chairman of Pediatrics at John’s Hopkins Medical Center but also the author of numerous articles, textbooks of pediatrics and a parenting book titled The Practical Pediatrician.  Dr. Oski was about as mainstream pediatrics as they came and one very smart fellow. So why was Dr. Kilbane so interested in me reading what Dr. Oski had to say about children and dairy intake? I knew that Dr. Kilbane believes that children should not consume any dairy after their first birthday and that she believed that the milk from cows is very harmful to the health of children and adults for that matter. I guess she figured  I was old enough and ready  to her the truth about the milk of cows as  food for humans.  Well I did read it and here goes, my review and thoughts of Dr. Oski’s book, Don’t Drink Your Milk.  


Dr. Frank Oski’s book approaches the subject of the nutritional value of milk the way you would expect an academic pediatrician would, sighting articles and research to justify his positions. He contends that his research revealed to him that not only is cow’s milk not nutritious for children or adults, but that it actually causes a lot of physical harm. Here is a synopsis of what Dr. Oski’s take on the the research that he presents;

  1. The saturated fat found in cow’s milk is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes in the western world where it is consumed throughout life.
  2. Most children and adults develop lactose intolerance, that is the inability to digest the sugar in cow’s milk after infancy and therefore cannot digest the sugar lactose, that is so abundant in cow’s milk. Lactose intolerant children and adults become sick when they consume lactose.
  3. Milk is a very high calorie food but lacks iron, an essential nutrient  that children need. Consuming a lot of cow’s milk starves these children of needed iron and makes them susceptible to iron deficiency’s devastating effects on a growing child including developmental delays and frequent infections.
  4. Many infants and young children are allergic to the proteins in cow’s milk therefore causing a serious gut allergy called allergic colitis.

So why, with all this medical evidence of serious harm coming from the consumption of cow’s milk, does the Academy of Pediatrics, the USDA, and the Center for Disease Control continue to insist that children should get three servings of lean dairy each day after the age of two years? Dr. Oski addresses this dilemma with a blunt discussion of the power of marketing. He contends that the dairy industry has a vested interest in keeping the American population drinking milk and that marketing that message works! Here we are, 48 years after the first edition of Don’t Drink Your Milk was published and we are still debating the same argument. The dairy industry is either right (milk is an essential and great food) or the dairy industry marketing machine is able to drown out the truth about the health problems associated with milk consumption.

Dr. Oski is now dead and gone, having died in 1996 of prostate cancer. What a shame and how ironic that he would die of a disease that many now believe can be fueled by the milk protein called casein that is found so abundantly in cow’s milk. For more on that subject, I refer you to my book review of The China Study, by Dr.T Colin Campbell.


So what are parents and pediatricians going to do with all the indicting evidence that Dr. Oski, an extremely well informed pediatrician, presents in his book, Don’t Drink your Milk? Is cow’s milk a healthy vital food or a food that fuels degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancers? For me, the truth is somewhere in the middle as is so often the case with so many controversies.  I believe there can be many negative short and long term health consequences that can come from dairy–to that, I think there is no doubt.  I see negative effects of dairy in my everyday experiences with all the constipated children who have stomachaches that I try and help. Convincing their families to go dairy free is still a very radical move for these families however. Many of these families are convinced that milk is the only nutrient that can give their children vital minerals for good growth. The same question, asked in another form is at the crux of the great milk controversy.  “Can children get enough minerals from foods other than dairy to sustain good bone growth?” I think the answer is obvious, of course they can, just like half the world does, from vegetables and other nutrients. Yes, the nutritional orthodoxy is right that children needs the minerals that are abundant in milk but I believe that they can get them from other sources that are healthier, if they would just eat their vegetables–but that seems to be a very hard sell in this part of the world!

For parents who want to dive a deeply into the science of childhood nutrition, I highly recommend Don’t Drink Your Milk. I give Dr. Oski’s book 4.5 out of 5 Doc Smo Stars. Not only is It well written, concise, and well referenced but Dr. Oski has proven that he was at least 50 years ahead on the great milk debate. I think it is definitely worth a read for parents tasked with feeding a child.


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Smo Notes: