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Milk is desperately in need of a "makeover" in marketing and nutrition education programmes for all New Zealanders.
That was the message from paediatric dietitian Lea Stening, who also specialises in sports nutrition, at Business Side n Dunedin, held as part of the South Island Dairy Event.
New Zealand had a drinking problem - the declining consumption of milk, she said.
Despite the benefits to health, the annual growth rate in milk consumption had dropped during the past decade, while the sale of carbonated drinks remained high.
The New Zealand dairy industry, while focusing on producing dairy commodities, could not afford to ignore the potential growth in the marketplace for liquid milk products and the opportunity to improve the health of New Zealanders, she said.
Outlining the health and nutritional benefits of milk, Ms Stening said it should be easy to sell. It was "the most fantastic product" and had many advantages.
She believed Fonterra's free milk in schools programme, which is being trialled in Northland, was "brilliant", but for it to be sustainable, the milk-drinking habit had to transfer from schools into homes.
There needed to be a lot more national advertising on the importance of drinking milk, and nutritional education targeting parents was important, she said.
With 92% of New Zealand children playing sport, there was a "huge opportunity" for milk to be promoted as the "new sports drink".
There had to be a change in the way milk was presented to the public. Schools and sports venues were areas to target, as that was the transition time.
Milk consumption significantly declined between adolescence and adulthood with reasons given including: that young people preferred water and soft drink, changes in living circumstances, a dislike of milk, they had stopped eating breakfast and they believed milk was too fattening.
Asked who should lead the makeover, Ms Stening said she thought it was the dairy industry.
"You're the guys that produce the stuff .. . you're sitting on a little pot of gold," she told those attending the seminar.