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October 21 2015

The Government's Sour Advice on Milk Consumption

Julie Gunlock

I pack my kids’ lunches every day because I believe I’m better at nutrition than the U.S. Government. But there’s another reason I do it—school-provided meals simply don’t contain enough dietary fat—especially after Michelle Obama’s school lunch “reforms” were implemented. And it’s not just with the bland food being served (lunch ladies aren’t allowed to use butter and other flavorings—like olive oil, cheese, etc.--on the vegetables served on the hot lunch line); kids can’t get full-fat milk. According to the National Milk Producers Federation, whole milk is banned in schools:

… the new standards allow only for low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free plain milk or fat-free flavored milk in the school meal programs. The rule no longer allows schools to offer whole milk or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk or low-fat flavored milk as part of the reimbursable meal.

What’s frustrating about this school lunch rule is that kids actually need dietary fat. Dietary fat helps kids absorb other key nutrients in the food they eat. Milk is particularly important because it contains calcium, potassium and vitamin D. And the calcium in milk also helps kids bone health, which is particularly important when they’re growing. Of course, kids aren’t going to get these critical nutrients if they refuse to drink milk—which is precisely what’s happening because better-tasting whole milk isn’t being offered. In fact, since the 1970s, milk consumption in the United States has dropped 36 percent.

This is a troubling sign. In a July 2013 article published in JAMA Pediatrics, doctors from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health criticized schools for offering low-fat milk over whole milk, saying that there’s never been strong evidence that skim milk leads to better outcomes.

And now, a new story in the Washington Post highlights how for years the feds have been giving Americans bad advice about milk (emphasis mine).

U.S. dietary guidelines have long recommended that people steer clear of whole milk, and for decades, Americans have obeyed. Whole milk sales shrunk. It was banned from school lunch programs. Purchases of low-fat dairy climbed.

“Replace whole milk and full-fat milk products with fat-free or low-fat choices,” says the the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government's influential advice book, citing the role of dairy fat in heart disease.

Whether this massive shift in eating habits has made anyone healthier is an open question among scientists, however. In fact, research published in recent years indicates that the opposite might be true: millions might have been better off had they stuck with whole milk.

Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over ten years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.

By warning people against full-fat dairy foods, the U.S. is “losing a huge opportunity for the prevention of disease,” said Marcia Otto, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas, and the lead author of large studies published in 2012 and 2013, which were funded by government and academic institutions, not the industry. “What we have learned over the last decade is that certain foods that are high in fat seem to be beneficial.”

The Post reporter then asks this important question:

It also has raised questions about the scientific foundations of the government’s diet advice: To what extent did the federal government, and the diet scientists they relied upon, go wrong? When the evidence is incomplete on a dietary question, should the government refrain from making recommendations?

Ya think?

When it comes to dietary guidelines, I wish I could provide the same advice I give when it comes to how people should respond to health nuts—ignore them. But it’s important for taxpayers to understand that the Dietary Guidelines have a huge impact on food policy in America. These guidelines determine how SNAP benefits are allocated, how the school lunch program is managed and what kids eat, and how our military feeds its soldiers. These guidelines are important which is why they need to be based on the best nutrition information—not politics. And they shouldn’t be used to push certain agendas.

But more importantly, these guidelines should not inform the average American’s diet choices. Talk to your doctor, consult with a nutritionist, do your research. Just don’t rely on Uncle Sam for diet tips.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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