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Jun 29, 2005 | Only two weeks ago, covered the story involving the study of 12,829 children aged 9 to 14 conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University, and published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, which found the more milk children drink, the more obese they become.

The researchers concluded the high calorie content found in milk, and not the milk itself, appeared responsible for the weight gains. The study also found dietary calcium, skim, and 1% milks are bigger culprits than whole milk since they may be consumed more freely thereby increasing overall caloric intake even further. Children who drank more than 3 servings a day were 25% more likely to become overweight than those who drank 2 to 3 servings.

Now, an activist group concerned with good health and nutrition appears to have had enough of the dairy industry’s marketing campaign which claims the consumption of its products can help people lose weight. The “Got Milk?” and “milk moustache” ads using celebrities to promote milk along with the notion that dairy products can help speed weight loss and claims that people can “slim down with milk,” have apparently triggered a legal battle which will now play itself out in the courts.

Back in April, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaining about the ads in question. No action has yet been taken on that complaint. A similar complaint was lodged with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In two lawsuits filed on Tuesday in Virginia, PCRM has made its position very clear. It claims the evidence is overwhelming when it comes to showing dairy consumption and specifically milk drinking have no demonstrable effect on body weight or weight loss.

PCRM sees the $200 million (since 2003) ad campaign by the National Dairy Council as false and misleading and nothing more than a fraud on the public.

Moreover, PCRM claims the entire campaign is based solely on studies done by one particular researcher whose objectivity is “compromised” by the fact that his work is funded by the dairy industry itself. That researcher, Michael B. Zemel, PhD, who is director of the University of Tennessee Nutrition Institute, admits to having accepted almost $3 million in funding from dairy companies and industry groups including the National Dairy Council. He has also been paid by the Council for speaking engagements. He claims, however, that his conclusions were in no way influenced by the sources of his funding.   

In one lawsuit, PCRM is seeking a court order halting the dairy industry from continuing to advertise its products as having anything at all to do with weight loss.

The second lawsuit is a class action brought in the name of one specific plaintiff (Catherine Holmes) on behalf of all others who have been similarly affected by the marketing campaign. Ms. Holmes claims to have been taken in by the so-called “dairy diet” when she wanted to lose weight. She alleges she actually gained weight by following the plan.

Since she only gained a few pounds and is merely seeking $236 in damages to reimburse her for the cost of the diary products she consumed while on the “diet,” her role as a plaintiff is mostly symbolic. Her true goal is for “the truth to come out.”

The defendants in the lawsuits include Kraft Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., the Dannon Co., Inc., Lifeway Foods, McNeil PPC, the National Dairy Council, Dairy Management Inc., and the International Dairy Foods Association.

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