27/09/2017 10:54 BST | Updated 27/09/2017 10:54 BST

Why We Should Celebrate World School Milk Day

fatihhoca via Getty Images

It's World School Milk Day today when schools from more than 40 countries across the world celebrate the health benefits of providing milk to schoolchildren.

Now in its 17th year, this annual event is a fantastic opportunity to focus attention on the health benefits of milk at a time when milk is facing mounting criticism - and often misinformation - from anti-dairy campaigners.

Arla actively encourages milk and dairy consumption amongst school children as part of a healthy, balanced diet and an active lifestyle. Milk and dairy products are an important part of a young child's diet. They are naturally rich in protein and calcium; nutrients that are needed for normal development of bone in children.

But despite these acknowledged benefits, the path to free school milk has not always been smooth.

It's now been over 70 years since Ellen Wilkinson, the first female education minister, persuaded Parliament to provide free milk to all schoolchildren. Since then the provision of free school milk to school has faced many obstacles, not least in 1971 when Lady Thatcher, who was then education secretary, famously earned the nickname "Thatcher, Thatcher, milk-snatcher" after she ended free school milk for children aged seven and over.

Today all children in the UK aged five and under are entitled to one free 189ml portion of milk (a third of a pint of milk) per day at school - a cost which is funded by the Government and for which it should be applauded. But despite this accepted wisdom about the benefits of milk for young children, dairy has come under renewed attack lately with various myths and misunderstandings abounding in the debate and milk alternatives on the rise.

Which is why on World School Milk Day, I would like to offer some clarification about the benefits of milk for children and why we should hope to continue to have free school milk for the next 70 years or more:

  • Milk and dairy foods are an excellent source of calcium, which is needed for normal growth and bone development in children;
  • Milk is also a high-quality source of protein, which also contributes to normal growth and bone development in children;
  • Milk also contains many other nutrients and vitamins, including phosphorous, potassium, iodine, vitamin B2, and vitamin B12.

It is important that children and their parents understand the central role that milk can play in a healthy diet and make an informed decision about the role of dairy in their lives.

For us there is no debate and we should thank the policymakers of yester year for a tradition that continues to benefit our next generation. So today, on World School Milk Day, let's all pour a glass of milk today and enjoy all of its natural goodness!