Do Japanese/Korean Schools Give Their Lactose-Intolerant Students Cow's Milk?

Is it true that schoolchildren in Japan, Korea, and parts of China are given a serving of cow’s milk each and every day? If so, why is this done? Is cow’s milk promoted as a means to promote physical development, resulting in taller, more athletic students?

Everything I’ve read suggests that the vast majority of East Asians are lactose intolerant. Do the students suffer from gastrointestinal upset upon consuming the milk, or are they given lactase supplements to make up for the enzyme that the majority of them do not produce?


That’s a good question. I wondered about this myself during the milk price rise early this year, when the news said that China had started a milk campaign to have every child drink milk (I also wondered if it was really worth it to ship all this milk to China - if it was turned into milk powder first, there’s far less vitamins and stuff left than in fresh milk from local area.)

For the vast majority of Asians, lactose intollerant means ‘don’t over do dairy products’ (not ‘no dairy’).

At least in china, big push for school kids to have milk. there is no gastrointestinal upset nor are they given lactase supplements.

That’s true for the vast majority of Americans who are lactose intolerant as well.

Lactose intolerance tends to appear after adulthood when the intestines gradually stop producing lactase. I was perfectly fine until my late 20s. It’s gotten worse with time.

A quick research shows that the condition is more severe* in Asians than in people of my ethnic background. I wonder if they are feeding the kids either lactose-free milk or lactase-added milk, both available here in most supermarkets.

From Wiki

  • Strange that the norm worldwide is to be lactose intolerant. What is rare is to actually be lactose tolerance.

Seems like I saw milk all over the place in Korea. Of course, I think it’s also standard for milk in Korea to be lactose free. I’m very lactose intolerant, but it never bothered me to pick up a carton of milk from any grocery store and drink from it daily. Nothing on the carton suggests that it’s lactose free, either.

Here in the US, of course, I have to make sure I buy Dairy Ease :wink:

EDIT: ALSO, I forgot to add that Korean milk products don’t taste as good as they do in the US. Even the lactose free milk in the US is significantly more fresh tasting.

This may be true in the U.S., but worldwide it’s almost certainly not.

There is a very good correlation between percentage of population that is lactose intolerant and the age of onset: the larger the percentage the earlier the onset.

That makes sense. Lactose intolerance is universal in mammals because all mammals who use lactose in their milk are designed to lose the ability to make the lactase enzyme at about the age of weaning. Those human populations who have that version of the gene also tend to start becoming lactose intolerant at about the age of weaning.

It’s those populations with the greatest percentage of the mutant gene that never sends out the stop signal that have so-called adult-onset lactose intolerance.

Even though the mutation is a simple one to a single gene on chromosome 2, researchers have found some 43 variations to that gene, presumably indicating that the mutation took place independently over and over again and became prevalent through natural selection. (The mutant gene is dominant.)

Why do those populations have adult-onset LI? Again presumably, they have mixed gene sets that delay the stop signal. I’m not familiar with any solid research explaining it, though.

It’s this adult-onset pattern that’s weird, but because it is so overwhelmingly the case with the white European-descended populations in the U.S. that lactose intolerance was actually called adult-onset LI until researchers in the 70s started doing studies with every population on earth and found out the real truth. Now it’s simply called primary LI.

It’s equally a myth that people with lactose intolerance can’t handle any milk. Many studies have shown that most people, and especially children, can handle a glass of milk with no symptoms.

I mentioned that I found it not to be the case with Asians. I m not American myself, but of Spanish and African background (latino, in short).

It is funny, but it appears that here LI is not such a big problem. In kids it is very, very rare. I have never heard of a case in a child.

My symptoms are pretty mild if I don’t overdo it, mostly bloating and gas… very stinky gas. :eek:

Apparently the default condition for humans is lactose intolerance as adults. But in populations that have long histories of raising and using cattle (for milk), there has been a selection for the gene form that causes lactase to be continued to be produced in adults. Therefore there was better nutrition and longer life and better survival in these populations if you carried the tolerance gene, which is a mutation of the non-tolerance gene.

So Europeans and East Africans who had cattle based economies ended up mostly lactose tolerant, while other Africans, N and S American natives and so forth stayed with the lactose intolerance…evolution in action.

If cites are needed, I could look them up…or you could have fun doing it!

Definitely not a universal thing in Japan.

I couldn’t find precise statistics on how often schools serve milk, but still, in most places it seems it’s almost every day. Sometimes it’s flavoured milk beverages. School lunches account for something like 10% of all milk consumption.

Milk was introduced in school lunches during the American occupation. It was in the form of powdered milk and was meant to address protein and calcium deficiencies among the still often poorly-fed students. In the fifties, there was a change towards locally-produced fresh milk.

While protein deficiency isn’t really an issue anymore, proponents of milk cite children’s need for calcium to justify its almost daily presence.

As for lactose intolerance, it’s a topic that’s almost never brought up. People do consume a fait amount of dairy products and don’t really worry about any adverse reaction. (Unless it’s from some Chinese melamin!) However, it might also have to do with the fact that dairy products are very common, they’re still not consumed in the vast quantities they are in places like North America.

For the record, a long, long time ago (ten years), when I was passing for a “native” English speaker in middle school, students, teachers and staff all had to drink the daily portion of milk that came with the school lunch.

I’ve taught at/visited about 20 elementary schools in Wakayama and Osaka. I don’t remember any of them not serving little glass bottles of milk as part of the school lunches.

I found a Ministry of Education report here that says that 99% of elementary schoolers and 79.5% of middle schoolers are served milk as part of a school lunch.

My wife was forced to drink a glass of milk every school day in primary school in Osaka. She was very happy when she finally reached secondary school and never had to drink milk again.

Sorry, I was counting high school as “schoolchildren.” My schools (high schools) don’t even have cafeterias. A company will bring small packages of prepared foods for the kids to buy. Things like noodles, fried chicken, hot dogs, etc.

To the OP, is it really that weird? I remember that milk came with my school lunches everyday as well. Has this practice changed in the US?

Have people already heard of this recent Chinese milk scandal?

I can see a reason to import expensive milk as it was termed. Prepackaged it’s safe to drink at least.

I had always heard that Yakult, a “predigested” yogurt drink, was originally conceived as a way of getting calcium into the diets of people with a low tolerance for lactose products. However, the Wikipedia article doesn’t mention this.

It’s certainly massively popular in Japan and Hong Kong.

Also in Hokkaido - I just asked my kids if they get milk or flavoured milk every single day, and the older one said “Yeah. What else would we get?”