Children who drink school milk are up to 40 per cent less likely to suffer bowel cancer as adults, a study shows. The key to milk's anti-cancer effects appears to lie in daily consumption of it over several years in childhood.

Researchers in New Zealand found pupils were 20 per cent less likely to have a tumour later in life if they drank milk every day for at least four to six years, and 40 per cent less likely if they were given milk for six years or more.

Professor Brian Cox, of Otago, New Zealand, told the American Journal of Epidemiology that further research may prove that milk could cut the risk of cancer in future generations.

The study compared 562 bowel cancer sufferers aged 30 to 69 with a similar number of healthy volunteers. Each was quizzed on their health and lifestyle, including how often they drank free school milk.

The Professor's findings support evidence from the World Cancer Research Fund. It is thought long-term milk consumption builds up high levels of calcium in the body, which could protect the bowel against damage or kill cancer cells before a tumour forms.

There is continuing controversy over the future of school milk in the UK. Under the Nursery Milk scheme, children under five can have a daily third of a pint of free milk in approved daycare facilities. But primary pupils have not had free milk since 1971.

Last August, Prime Minister David Cameron overruled Coalition plans to ditch the £50million-a-year scheme.

Dr Judith Bryans, director of the Dairy Council, said: "School milk is hugely important because it ensures children have an adequate supply of nutrients. One glass of milk has the same amount of calcium as a kilogramme of spinach."

But Cancer Research UK warned some studies had shown a high-dairy diet could actually increase the chance of developing the disease. A spokeswoman said: The best ways to reduce bowel cancer risk are to keep a healthy weight, drink less alcohol and be physically active."

Posted by Penny Hosie on 11.2.11

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