A little White Lie

In true yo-yo fashion, the latest study on dairy found that of the 20,000 men questioned, those with the largest increase in total dairy intake gained slightly more weight than those who ditched dairy or stayed with the status quo. What does this mean for you? "We don't have a definitive answer at this point," says the American Dietetic Association's Andrea Giancoli, M.P.H., R.D. "In this particular study, calorie intake was not controlled, so men who gained weight most likely consumed more total calories." Nevertheless, Giancoli claims that advertisements touting the weight-loss benefits of dairy are premature. This is a case of the media running amok with a good headline.

Studies on dairy's role in weight loss have consistently shown mixed results. The media hype began when three small studies (30 people each) found that dieters on reduced-calorie diets who had three daily servings of low-fat dairy products daily, lost more weight and body fat than those who consumed one serving or less. The caveat: Funding for the studies came from the dairy industry and General Mills (maker of your favorite blend of Yoplait) Nevertheless, some experts claim there's reason to believe calcium may help promote weight loss. "Dairy products are nutritious foods," says Giancoli. "They're a great source of calcium, potassium and high-quality protein." The current recommendation is to consume three servings daily, which most of us are not doing. But if you aren't already consuming dairy and you add three servings to your diet (without eliminating calories from somewhere else), you're gonna gain weight.

Theories on weight gain and dairy aren’t exclusive to just adults. 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. The study of more than 12,000 children nationwide found that the more milk they drank, the more weight they gained: Those consuming more than three servings each day were about 35 percent more likely to become overweight than those who drank one or two.

The National Dairy Council has spent $200 million since 2003 to promote the idea that milk can help people lose weight. Some research has suggested that calcium or other elements in milk may cause the body to make less fat and speed its elimination, but the studies produced mixed results. The dairy industry disputed the idea that the new study challenges its ads, saying it had said only that adults may be able to lose more weight if they drink milk while cutting calories.

Based on the findings, children should follow federal recommendations to consume two to three servings of dairy a day, no more. The study comes amid intense concern about the growing problem of obesity among children. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Public health experts have been particularly concerned that drinking soda contributes to weight problems, leading some parents to try to get their kids to drink more milk instead.

The researchers analyzed whether the children would have been better off if they replaced the soda they were drinking with milk but found no benefit. For the study, analyzed data collected from about 12,829 children from all 50 states who were ages 9 to 14 in 1996, when they began participating in the Growing Up Today Study, an ongoing project examining the relationship between diet, exercise and a host of health issues.

The researchers examined the relationship between the children's milk intake between 1996 and 1999 and their weight over a one-year period. Those who drank more than three eight-ounce servings of milk a day gained the most weight, even after the researchers took into consideration factors such as physical activity, other dietary factors and growth. The association held, even though most of the children were drinking low-fat milk.

Several researchers agreed that the findings undercut the idea that milk promotes weight loss. Others, however, said a growing body of evidence supports the idea.

While the researchers tease out the truth about whether dairy promotes a slim figure, stick with a low-cal, high-exercise approach and repeat after me: "All things in moderation."


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