USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service is required to make a report to Congress each July on the status of these dairy promotion programs. The 2005 report is still missing from the USDA/AMS website. The agency tells me they will send it when it is ready. The House Agriculture Committee staff tells me they hear there has been a "printing problem" and the report should be ready in a "few weeks." I suspect it will be difficult to write this report this year, because the advertising programs now have legal status as "government speech," confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in May. Federal government communication on diet and nutrition is supposed to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The scientific committee behind these guidelines specifically considered and declined to endorse the dairy weight loss claims. Under these circumstances, what will the 2005 USDA report to Congress on dairy commodity promotion say about the tens of millions of dollars being spent on advertising dairy weight loss diets? Since the release date for the USDA report to Congress is July, and the holdup is a mere printing problem, it should be legal for anybody to send an electronic copy to U.S. Food Policy. I'd be delighted to receive it.
Similarly, despite my suggestions that it be removed or edited, the American Dietetic Association has left up its web page on dairy weight loss. The worst thing about this web page is that its lead paragraph exactly misrepresents the scientific evidence. Even in its most favorable light, the weight loss suggested by some small scientific studies occurs on diets with deep caloric restrictions. The ADA web page, by contrast, says the dairy weight loss approach "doesn't mean depriving yourself." The ADA sounds like a classic fad diet advertiser: "Have you vowed to lose weight this year? If so, listen up. There is a new approach to losing – one that doesn’t mean depriving yourself or following the latest fad diet." (When the advertiser says, "this is not a fad diet," it should remind you of the politician saying, "I am not a crook"). I admire the ADA, a leading advocate for good health and nutrition, and I simply cannot believe that this language is acceptable to the ADA's professional membership. If you are an ADA member, please contact your association.
The September edition of the Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter (new issue not yet online) reports on the scientific evidence:
The two published clinical trials most often cited by the dairy industry involved small sample sizes and, critics note, were funded by the dairy council or General Mills, which makes Yoplait yogurt. Michael B. Zemel, MD, director of the University of Tennessee's Nutrition Institute, led both studies and has since taken the unusual step of patenting his findings, so dairy companies must pay him to cite his studies in their ads.Instead, the studies were among people who also ate much less food, with a daily deficit of 500 calories.
Reading the fine print in those ads makes clearer what Dr. Zemel actually concluded, which is not simply that upping your dairy consumption will peel off the pounds.
Similarly, David Schardt has a fine detailed report on the scientific aspects of this controversy in the latest issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (issue not online). An accompanying editorial from the Center's director, Michael Jacobson, points out the role of the federal government's commodity promotion programs, which has been emphasized in U.S. Food Policy:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is supposed to oversee the programs and make sure that the ads are not false or misleading. However, the AMS's standards are rather low. For example, the AMS says that if the ads make a claim about health, at least two published studies should support the claim.This standard of two scientific articles is trivially easy to meet, far easier than a policy of being consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which represents the balance of the best scientific evidence. If this "two-article" standard is for real, this policy completely overturns the promises that the Dietary Guidelines will be the federal government's 'one voice' on nutrition and health. See, for example, the promises in the testimony before Congress (.doc) from Eric Hentges, the former pork board vice president who now oversees dietary guidance for USDA as director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.