Editorial: When Diets Go Wrong, So Does Research
In America’s schools, every lunch tray has a carton of milk on it. That will change if PCRM’s petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture succeeds. PCRM filed the petition because studies clearly show that milk does not build strong bones. Nor does it cause weight loss, reduce PMS, or deliver the other supposed benefits the dairy industry has used in media promotions. The science supporting milk for bone health was always shaky, and with a new Harvard study showing zero benefit for children’s bones (see “Got Truth?” in this issue), the argument has crumbled.
This matters because dairy products do a surprising amount of harm. First, they are the leading source of saturated (“bad”) fat in the North American diet, and that spells obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Meanwhile, nonfat milk gets most of its calories from sugar—that is, lactose. Ounce for ounce, nonfat milk is about as fattening as a typical soda. Dairy products are under investigation for their roles in type 1 diabetes, prostate cancer, arthritis, digestive problems, and childhood anemia, among other conditions.
And the animals are not having a nice time either. Dairy cows are impregnated annually to force continuous milk production. Pregnant cows give birth, and male calves are taken away from their mothers and crated up to prevent them from walking, so their muscles are artificially flabby—the way restaurateurs like their veal. Female calves are dehorned without anesthesia and recruited into the impregnation-lactation cycle until their milk production flags. At that point, they become cheap beef.
In turn, the health problems caused by fat, sugar, and calories have become the subjects of massive research efforts. Take diabetes, for example. In 2011, the U.S. government spent $559 million on diabetes experiments using an estimated 72,200 animals, mainly in the quest for yet another diabetes drug.
Enough already. It is time to bring humanity back into health and research policy. The Diabetes Prevention Program proved that lifestyle changes are more powerful than drugs for preventing diabetes. And in 2006, PCRM’s research team showed that a plant-based diet was a powerful treatment for people with diabetes. Avoiding animal products helped participants slim down, cut their blood sugars, and reduce their need for medicines.
Changing the contents of children’s lunch trays is just one part of the solution. But by rethinking our nutritional habits and focusing our research on ethical studies of human patients, not only can we help quite a few cows on farms and mice in laboratories breathe a sigh of relief, we can also tackle the epidemics that are otherwise interminable.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM