Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Whole-Milk Drinkers Gain Less Weight

Only a few days after I pounded the idiocy of a quote from Heather Mills ex-McCartney that "those children who drink the most milk gain the most weight," I find a medical study that comes to a very different conclusion. Irony abounds.

The study, from the December 2006 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and reported by Reuters, doesn't so much refute Mills' comment as add another dimension to the overall subject: the relationship between milk-drinking and weight gain.

The findings are based on data from 19,352 women ages 40 to 55 who were surveyed about their diets, weight and other health factors at the study's outset and again 9 years later.

Women who said they had whole milk or cheese at least once a day throughout the study period were less likely to report a significant weight gain -- defined as 2 pounds or more per year.

Even though this was a very large longitudinal study, the factors involved are so complex that the rest of the article is a series of caveats, sort of like a two-headed cow.

For one thing, only whole milk, and not low-fat milk, seemed to offer protection against weight gain. For another, the benefit was seen only among women who were normal-weight at the start of the study.

It's always possible that the associations between dairy intake and weight gain do not reflect a direct action of dairy foods at all, according to Dr. Magdalena Rosell, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the study's lead author.

Eating habits can be seen as a marker of overall lifestyle, and women who favored whole milk might have had other habits that aided their weight control, Rosell told Reuters Health.

It's also possible that women who had already been gaining weight opted to drink low-fat milk -- making the milk a "marker," but not a cause, of weight gain, according to Rosell.

And not even Dr. Rosell thinks that women should go back to drinking whole milk:
At this point, there's no reason, Rosell said, for people to eschew the general advice to choose low-fat dairy products, which are lower in artery-clogging saturated fats.

Not the neat, clear-cut results one would hope for, are they? As I've said many times before, and unfortunately will have to say many times again, teasing out the influences that any one food or nutrient play in our overall eating habits is next to impossible, even for the best-run studies. No one study should ever be the cause of your changing your life habits. And never get your medical news from a newspaper headline.

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Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Some people may react in different ways to different foods due to intolerances, allergies, etc., but at this point it is hard to argue that overall diet (calorie consumption) and activity levels are not the primary culprits of weight gain for the majority of the population.

I think they may have gone after this study as whole milk consumption has gone down dramatically in the years as obesity has risen. But, cheese and ice cream consumption have taken their place in the whole dairy category (adding loads of calories and likely unwanted fat). I think the increasing use of computers (as I sit here for my second straight hour) and the invention of the supersize meal have also played a big part in the "expansion" of our society.

Steve Carper said...

I certainly agree that we as a country exercise less and tend to eat larger and more calorie-laden portions of food. Those two factors undoubtedly overwhelm any single food's contribution to the obesity epidemic.

However, I was curious about your claim that cheese and ice cream consumption have risen.

This USDA webpage contains fascinating charts of trends in milk, cheese, and ice cream from 1909 to 2000.

Whole milk consumption per capita has declined steadily since the 1940s and was passed by low-fat milks in the the late 1980s.

Cheese consumption has doubled since 1975, and this is attributed to its growing use in fast foods.

Ice cream consumption, however, peaked in 1946. And the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) states that:

"According to 2004 U.S. production, regular ice cream accounts for the largest share of the frozen dessert market, at 59.9%. Reduced-fat, light, lowfat and nonfat ice cream account for 27.8% of the market, followed by frozen yogurt (4.3%), water ice (4.1%), sherbet (3.5%) and other (0.5%). Source: USDA"

Cheese and fast foods are a problem and will continue to be, given current trends. It's hard to know just how that balances out the trends toward lower-fat varieties of milk and ice cream, though. As I said, the contribution of any one food overall is impossible to quantify.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, you are correct, ice cream consumption has remained relatively flat, though total frozen dessert consumption has steadily risen each decade. Stating it as ice cream was a misquote on my part.

But, I have seen the frozen yogurt craze first hand, and must say I think it packs on more calories than ice cream. Many years ago I would go with friends to get frozen yogurt (and not feel very good after) and the serving sizes we had were easily triple what I would have eaten in ice cream!

Shocking that cheese consumption today is more than four times as much as it was in the 50's.