Got Propaganda? Why All of the Milk Industry's Health Claims Have Been Proven Wrong
Photo Credit: Eskemar via Shutterstock
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Selling milk looks easy and even fun when you see the celebrity milk-mustache ads. "Got Milk?" ads may be the most recognizable and spoofed of all ad campaigns, yet they are probably also one of the least successful: Milk sales have actually fallen every year since the ads began. The National Dairy Promotion and Research Program and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Program admit "consumption has been declining for decades in the United States at about 1.0 percent per year," in their yearly reports to Congress but plead that their marketing has "helped mitigate at least some of this decline." Key words "help," "at least" and "some."
Why the milk-drinking slide? First, many U.S. groups simply do not drink much, or any, milk -- including ethnic minorities, those who are lactose intolerant or allergic, dieters, the health conscious, and vegans. Kids themselves often dislike milk -- probably why they invented chocolate and flavored milk -- and it is often the last choice among teens and tweens, on whom much milk marketing is focused. Healthcare professionals, unless subsidized by the dairy industry, seldom recommend milk because of its cholesterol, fat, calories, allergens and impurities and its possible links to rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) since milk made with the cow milk enhancer has never been labeled. Benjamin Spock, the famous baby boom-era pediatrician, recommended no milk for children after age two to reduce their risks of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and diet-related cancers.
Milk marketers admit that the public's " preference" for milk may be changing, but also blame calcium-fortiﬁed juices and vitamin-enhanced beverages that " undermine" milk's healthy image. They also point the finger at " limited availability" of milk in eating establishments and even milk's price. You can't find milk anywhere -- and when you do, you can't afford it, they claim. The agencies note that national milk sales are falling because the proportion of children under six has not grown much and as the "proportion of African Americans in the population increases" -- a group not known to be big milk drinkers due to higher rates of lactose intolerance.
Milk marketers have tried everything to reverse falling sales. During the 1980s when the slogan was "Milk: It Does a Body Good," they began marketing milk for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis. "One in ﬁve victims of osteoporosis is male," said milk ads featuring model Tyra Banks, as the mustache campaign debuted. "Don't worry. Calcium can help prevent it." Another early mustache ad with musician Marc Anthony read, "Shake it, don't break it. Want strong bones? Drinking enough lowfat milk now can help prevent osteoporosis later."
But the campaign had both marketing and scientific problems. Teens and tweens don't worry much about old-people diseases like osteoporosis because who's gonna get old? And African Americans, Latinos and men, groups targeted in the strong bone campaign, are the least at risk for osteoporosis say doctors. Oops.
Health professionals also disputed the bone claims. A 2001 USDA expert panel report said that calcium intake by itself, as milk offers, does not prevent osteoporosis because exercise and nutrients other than calcium are part of the bone health picture. Panelists also said whole milk could increase the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease and ads should include such warnings.
And other experts like T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and heart expert Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, agreed that osteoporosis and fractures are not caused by what marketers were presenting as "milk deficiencies." In fact, the Western diet, which often has too much protein and acid, is blamed by some researchers and nutritionists for osteoporosis and fractures. The popular proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec, which people take for acid reflux, are also blamed for fractures.