Animal Writes
29 April 2001 Issue
For Better Health: "Got Milk?" Or "Not Milk!"

Chef Jeff's Weekly Health Update
contributed by Trevor Chin - [email protected] 

They are at it again.

The dairy industry and their misleading advertisements that make false health claims about their products.

The dairy industry is running and ad campaign now claiming that low-fat dairy product consumption is beneficial to people suffering from high blood pressure.

The ad claims "Dairy Makes the Difference in DASH." This is a reference to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension multicenter study funded by the federal National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The DASH Study did not conclude that dairy product consumption is responsible for a reduction in blood pressure. Its design did not isolate dairy products for examination. In fact, in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration denied the dairy industry permission to make the claim that low-fat dairy products protect against hypertension.

This advertisement, which is running in medical journals, is unsupported by scientific studies and is in direct violation of the FTC Act. "Dairy products do not lower blood pressure to any meaningful degree, and ads that imply that they do are pushing potentially deadly advice," says Amy Lanou, Ph.D, nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Hypertension, also known as "the silent killer," affects 50 million American adults, and is especially prevalent among African Americans and elderly individuals. "In the absence of appropriate treatment, hypertension is a major contributor to fatal heart disease and stroke. The suggestion that dairy products can cause a clinically important reduction in blood pressure is false and poses the danger that hypertensive individuals may be less likely to seek effective treatment," states Dr. Lanou.

In a petition that was submitted on the March 28, 2001 before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is calling on the agency to halt a dairy industry ad claiming that low-fat dairy product consumption is beneficial to people suffering from high blood pressure.

PCRM says that the dairy industry is also twisting the findings of a report of sporadic cases of rickets (a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency) to scare people into drinking cow's milk.

The report, released last week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and discussed in the April issue of Pediatrics, attributed cases of rickets to a decrease in sun exposure (sunlight on the skin creates vitamin D naturally) and to an increase in breast-feeding (breast milk can be short on vitamin D). The report also attributed one case of rickets to a milk alternative, which was not fortified with vitamin D. Given the many health problems associated with dairy consumption, PCRM is concerned the
public is being misled into thinking that dairy is the best way to prevent rickets.

"Insisting that our children drink cow's milk to get their vitamin D is like encouraging them to play in traffic to get their exercise," says Amy J. Lanou, Ph.D., and PCRM nutrition director.

"Yes, cow's milk is fortified with vitamin D, but it's also jam-packed with saturated fat and problematic proteins," says Dr. Lanou. "And cow's milk is hardly the only food fortified with vitamin D. It's readily available in much healthier foods, such as fortified soy and rice milks." A study conducted last Friday by PCRM shows that most soy and rice milks, such as Silk and Pacific Soy, have 25 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin D, the same as cow's milk.

PCRM doctors and dietitians, who have included such well-respected child health experts as the late Benjamin Spock, M.D., have long maintained that cow's milk is not a health food. In children, dairy consumption is linked with anemia, colic, allergies, constipation, and juvenile-onset diabetes. In adults, it's related to heart disease, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and possibly breast cancer.

"Milk is the least healthy source of vitamin D," says Neal D. Barnard, M.D., PCRM president. "Rather, we should encourage increased outdoor activity, which would not only help children produce enough vitamin D naturally, but would help strengthen their bones, improve fitness, and reduce obesity. For kids who do not get enough sunlight, any typical multivitamin will do the job."

The national advertising slogan being used by the dairy industry "Got Milk?" should be replaced with one that is really in the best interest of public health. It should be "Not Milk!"

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, especially good nutrition, and higher standards in research.

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