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The Physicians Committee

USDA, Dairy Industry End Dairy-Weight Loss Advertisements

Misleading milk ad featuring David BeckhamYou’ve seen the advertisements. Trim celebrities like Elizabeth Hurley and Beyoncé tell you that eating three servings of dairy a day will help you lose weight. Thousands of Americans were duped into thinking that dairy product consumption is associated with weight loss because of this slick advertising campaign, which has cost the dairy industry more than $200 million. But now, in response to a petition filed by PCRM with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two national dairy organizations have agreed to halt this advertising campaign because existing research does not support the weight-loss claims.

The petition charged that advertising campaigns linking dairy product consumption to weight loss were false and misleading. These campaigns included the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board’s “Milk your diet. Lose weight!” and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board’s “3-a-Day. Burn More Fat, Lose Weight” promotions. The claims are based on three studies by Michael Zemel, Ph.D., a researcher funded by the National Dairy Council and yogurt manufacturers. Critics say that Zemel’s studies were small, poorly controlled, and reported with only minimal details; they have also yielded inconsistent results.

Out of 27 randomized, controlled research trials investigating the effects of dairy products on body weight, only three—all conducted by Dr. Zemel—showed a link between dairy consumption and weight loss. Research conducted by PCRM's senior nutrition scientist, Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., and published in Obesity Research in 2005 pointed out that none of his studies report the degree to which participants actually reduced their caloric intakes, the most likely cause of any weight loss.

In response to PCRM’s presentation of these facts in the petition, the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices met with USDA staff and representatives of the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, who agreed to discontinue all advertising and other marketing activities involving weight-loss claims pending further research into the issue. The decision also applies to affiliated entities, including Dairy Management Inc. 

“I think people will start to recognize that the dairy industry, which used to have a mom-and-pop image, is a huge commercial entity that will exaggerate to sell its products,” PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., told the Associated Press. The news of this consumer victory was covered by many major media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, and The Chicago Tribune.

There are other good reasons to avoid milk. A new study in the International Journal of Cancer found that as consumption of dairy products or overall dietary calcium intake increased, risk for prostate cancer increased. In a survey of 29,133 men, those who consumed the most dietary calcium (greater than 2,000 mg per day) had a 63 percent greater risk, compared with those getting less than 1,000 mg per day.


PCRM Online, June 2007

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