Monday, June 06, 2005

Study: More Milk Means More Weight Gain

That's the headline from the Washington Post today. Reporter Rob Stein writes:
Children who drink more than three servings of milk each day are prone to becoming overweight, according to a large new study that undermines a heavily advertised dairy industry claim that milk helps people lose weight.
But even with that strong first paragraph, the article is far too understated.

Stein writes, "The National Dairy Council has spent $200 million since 2003 to promote the idea that milk can help people lose weight." But most people will think of the Dairy Council as a private-sector industry group. That money actually comes from the National Dairy Board and the National Fluid Milk Promotion Board, two of the checkoff boards sponsored by the federal government, which enforces collection of a tax on the producers. The Supreme Court recently upheld the Constitutionality of these checkoff boards, which are opposed by substantial minorities of producers, on grounds that the board's message represents the federal government's own speech.

Stein's article ends with a counterpoint offered by University of Tennessee researcher Michael Zemel, who believes that heavy dairy consumption accelerates weight loss in a reduced calorie diet. The article notes that Zemel "receives some funding from the dairy industry." This, again, greatly understates the issue. Zemel has a highly unusual patent on the dairy weight loss claim, which is marketed by another industry organization allied with the checkoff program, the International Dairy Food Association. For a fee, this association permits dairy companies to make dairy weight loss claims, and if the companies attempt to make such a claim without permission, the association threatens to sue them (.pdf).

All of this reminds me to point out some dairy weight loss hype on the website of the American Dietetic Association. This hype is inconsistent with the Dietary Guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee specifically considered the dairy weight loss claim at the request of the National Dairy Council, and declined to endorse it. Compare the language on the American Dietetic Association's website to the 24/24 campaign on the checkoff sponsored website touting the dairy weight loss claim. The bottom of the Association's web page links to a long list of scientific research articles apparently corroborating the dairy weight loss claim, but this list is so selective as to be dishonest. Try to find the following articles and letters in scientific journals on the list:
  1. Barr S. Increased Dairy Product or Calcium Intake: Is Body Weight or Composition Affected in Humans?. J Nutr. 2003;133:245S–248S.
  2. Gunther CW, Legowski PA, Lyle RM, McCabe GP, Eagan MS, Peacock M, Teegarden D. Dairy products do not lead to alterations in body weight or fat mass in young women in a 1-y intervention. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(4):751-6, 2005.
  3. Lanou AJ. Letters to the Editor: Data Do Not Support Recommending Dairy Products for Weight Loss. Obes Res 13(1):191.
  4. St. Onge M-P. Dietary fats, teas, dairy, and nuts: potential functional foods for weight control? Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81:7-15.
On Friday, I wrote the American Dietetic Association's press office by email to ask who wrote the association's website language, and whether it has been endorsed by the association. I have not yet heard a response, and will let you know if I do.


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