New Delhi: Feeding cow's milk to toddlers below the age of one year is a growing factor behind allergic diseases, including in the respiratory and digestive system, as they cannot tolerate protein in the milk, experts said on Sunday.
Observing that infants who do not get breast milk need an alternative form of nutrition to maintain their health, child experts said if cow's milk is fed at such an initial age then the low concentration of iron and its consumption during infancy is linked to anemia.
"Though cow's milk is associated to our culture for ages, it should not be given to toddlers below one year... It may put a strain on the infant's immature kidney and is also difficult to digest," said Nandan Joshi, Health and Nutrition Science expert, Danone India.
As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), only 40 per cent of children were introduced timely complementary foods, while only 10 per cent children between six to 23 months received adequate diet.
The infants are given cow milk in India as awareness is low among the people especially in rural areas.
As per the Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), 42 per cent of non-breastfed infants below one year received cow's milk or any other milk.
"Allergic diseases are on the rise worldwide. The incidents are more in developed countries though it is on the rise in India as well. Milk allergy is the most common allergy in children," said Lalit Bharadia, Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist at Jaipur's Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital.
"Around three per cent of children can't tolerate milk protein in animal milk. Milk allergic infants, who do not get breast milk, need an alternate form of nutrition to maintain their health."
Bharadia said that while older infants can be fed household complementary food, younger ones need special hydrolysed and amino acid-based formula which do not produce allergy. "Such products are easily available in India."
Allergy is a result of one or more cow's milk proteins triggering an adverse reaction by our body's immune system.
The symptoms vary and may affect several organ systems such as skin, digestive or the respiratory tract, possibly resulting in skin rash, eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea, colic, wheezing or excessive crying.
In a study conducted at a tertiary care hospital in India, three out of 10 children with chronic diarrhoea were estimated to be suffering from cow's milk allergy. Globally, the prevalence rate of cow's milk allergy is approximately three to five per cent.