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Lawsuits Challenge Dairy Weight Loss Claims

Vegetarian Group Says Dairy Industry Ads Touting Weigh Loss Are Misleading

Dietary Guidelines

New federal dietary guidelinesNew federal dietary guidelines published in January increased the recommended dairy intake from two servings per day to three. But the recommendation was based on health benefits of calcium and other nutrients and not on weight loss.

"At this time there is insufficient evidence on which to base a more definitive statement regarding the intake of milk products and management of body weight," the report states.

Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a dietitian and anesthesiologist at Altoona Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania, says that she strongly recommends three servings of dairy products per day for children until they reach puberty and for many adults. But the recommendation has nothing to do with promoting weight loss.

"That is a tough leap of faith. I would go with the 14 studies that show no strong effect," says Gerbstadt, a spokeswoman for the National Dietetic Association.

One Scientist Convinced

Still, the researcher of the two published studies directly linking dairy intake to weight loss says that the scientific evidence is now strong enough to conclude that milk intake can directly lead to fat loss.

"We absolutely have the data to support that," says Michael B. Zemel, PhD, director of the University of Tennessee Nutrition Institute.

In addition to the two studies already published, another three conducted by Zemel are soon to be published this summer concluding that milk intake aids weight loss -- but only in people with insufficient calcium intake. Other unpublished studies by Zemel show that calcium has a direct effect on hormones, including calcitriol, which can interfere with the breakdown of fat.

"For people with adequate intake, I would predict no effect," he tells WebMD.

All of Zemel's studies were funded by dairy industry interests, which activists point to when they question the validity of the findings.

Zemel confirms that he has received nearly $3 million in research funding from companies and industry groups marketing dairy products, including the National Dairy Council and General Mills. He has also been paid by the National Dairy Council for speeches, he says.

Zemel says that consumers "should be aware" of who funds his research but that they should not be concerned. "I will not allow anyone to control the outcome of my study or when, where, or how I report the data," he says.


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