Harvard professor takes swipe at milk; picked up by media

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A Harvard University professor got his “15 minutes of fame” Tuesday, as news agencies picked up on his cautionary and somewhat dismal remarks about milk.

In an opinion piece on the JAMA Pediatrics web site, professor of pediatrics David Ludwig questioned the recommendation of three servings of milk per day, especially if that milk is flavored and sweetened. 

“….the substitution of sweetened reduced-fat milk for unsweetened whole milk ― which lowers saturated fat by 3 (grams) but increases sugar by 13 (grams) per cup ― clearly undermines diet quality, especially in a population with excessive sugar consumption," he wrote.

Then, he takes a swipe at milk in general, questioning whether it is needed at all.

“Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk… and many populations throughout the world today consume little or no milk for biological reasons (lactase deficiency), lack of availability, or cultural preferences,” Ludwig wrote.

"Adequate dietary calcium for bone health, often cited as the primary rationale for high intakes of milk, can be obtained from many other sources,"  he said. 

Whether these remarks were intended as a “swipe” or not, they were picked up by the news media and many of the reports cast milk in an unflattering light. A story on the Yahoo! home page had the caption, “Drink really isn’t so ‘healthy’ after all,” leading into this article

Yet, points out Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, milk plays a key role in helping Americans, especially children, meet the recommended intakes of critical nutrients.  

“Milk (white or flavored) is an affordable, great-tasting way to enhance the nutrient quality of your diet,” he says.

“Research shows that children who drink flavored milk also drink more milk overall, have better quality diets, do not have higher intakes of added sugar or fat, and are just as likely to be at a healthy weight compared to kids who do not consume flavored milk.

“Flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients found in white milk that are important for good health ― a nutrient package difficult to find in other foods that are as affordable or appealing,” Miller adds.

“The nation's leading health and nutrition organizations recognize the valuable role that milk, including flavored milk, can play in meeting daily nutrient needs. In addition, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recognize that a small amount of added sugars can be used to increase the palatability and appeal of nutrient-dense foods, such as fat-free chocolate milk. 

“In a recent peer-reviewed study, removing or limiting flavored milk from schools had significant unintended consequences on children’s milk consumption. This could negatively impact their nutrient intake. In the 49 elementary schools examined, there was a 37 percent average decrease in milk consumption, resulting from a 26 percent decline in milk purchased and an 11 percent increase in milk discarded. To replace the nutrients from less milk intake in a school district, it would require three to four additional foods, resulting in more calories and fat, and a cost increase of up to $4,600 per 100 students,” Miller says.

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VT  |  July, 03, 2013 at 08:27 AM

I would not consider this taking a swipe at milk. The article was a very intelligently written, fact based article that made two main points. First, it concluded that whole milk is a better option than fat-reduced, sweetened milk. Second, that humans do not require milk to survive. I love milk, and I do not think this article was "swiping" at milk at all. t was an unbiased article based on facts. It would be nice to see more of that on Dairyherd Network.

IA  |  July, 03, 2013 at 10:23 AM

I agree with Kyle. The problem is media putting their own spin on news to capture an audience. Yes, whole milk is better than sweetened milk. There's truth that we can supplement the body from other sources too. Yahoo may have put their spin on it, saying it's unhealthy, but Dairyherd Network is putting their own spin on it to make dairy farmers read their article and get angry/upset. Have our efforts as dairy farmers to increase consumption through flavored milk affected milk's image as a whole?

Salt Lake city, UT  |  July, 03, 2013 at 11:55 AM

If the Harvard man is having a problem with flavored milks, does he have a problem with soda? Sugar free soda, sugar fee yogurt and other foods with artificial sweeteners are not the answer. Aspartame and it's cousins cause me serious headaches to the point of nausea. The FDA should not be clearing such fake sugar foods into public consumption.

JC Carter    
NZ  |  July, 11, 2013 at 04:56 PM

I would say its not unbiased, and comments such as "Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk" are showing the anti-dairy agenda, using hte same tact as numerous vegans and the prominant anti-dairy crowd. The same terms can be said for any item within the food chain. No individual food is essential. That statement is a thinly veiled attempt at mitgating the USDA recommendations on milk/dairy intake - that is often repeated by his collaborator Walter Willett, somebody with a long history of promoting low dairy consumption. Dairy provides nutrients of value to the human diet. Other foods can replace htem, but its not a simple substitution - as can be born out of the dietary data available world wide. Like all good promotors of research, the story has been communicated from Havard to the media, and the 'spin' as its called is not specifically the medias doing. it starts with the University, the researchers, the communications team and then the media.

Austria  |  December, 27, 2013 at 04:46 PM

“In a recent peer-reviewed study, removing or limiting flavored milk from schools had significant unintended consequences on children’s milk consumption. This could negatively impact their nutrient intake." OH PLEASE! Indeed, because the children today don't get what they really need! Solving it with milk is triple ill thinking. Please teach the children what they need, and don't try to sell them junk. Milk is for cows, period. Building up an immune system through shelter, proper food and hygiene its the best way to fight malaria for instance, but NO, we prefer vaccinations…?? Hello? same sick thinking… First the basics please…If nothing else remains to eat, then you can take milk as a resort (as it was in history, and it was useful for a short period), but now with all our food choices? No matter if it is healthy or not, the way we treat the cows makes it a NO GO. Stop being naive. It is, as always, (to sad, but true) only about money. And being healthy, is not what is desired by the leaders of Industry. Milk CAUSES osteoporosis, not preventing it: Little milk consumption countries have less hip fractures then heavy milk consumption countries. Explain THAT. CASE CLOSED.

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