Does Dairy Promote Weight Loss?

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The National Dairy Council has spent more than $200 million claiming consuming more milk and dairy helps people lose weight. The basis of this claim rests largely on studies done by Dr. Zemel at the University of Tennessee. Michael Zemel also has written a book that was published by John Wiley & Sons called The Calcium Key in which he advocates a diet with more dairy products and calcium to aid weight loss. Zemel?s proposed mechanism involves calcitrol (the active form of vitamin D) to explain why diets higher in calcium promote weight loss. However, if this mechanism is correct then calcium supplements should work just as well as dairy products. His own data from a small study found more weight was lost with dairy products than calcium supplements.1 A much larger study published in the February 2004 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed no impact on weight from calcium supplements.

Another large new study further undermines the dairy industry?s claim that milk and other dairy products help people lose weight. This study found that children who drank more than three servings of milk each day were actually significantly more prone to becoming overweight. The study looked at 12,829 children nationwide between the ages of 9 and 14 years old and found that the more milk they drank, the more weight they tended to gain over time. According to Catherine S.Berkey of Harvard Medical School, who led the study, ?The take-home message is that children should not be drinking milk as a means of losing weight or trying to control weight,? Her study is published in the June issue of the Journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

When asked to comment on this study?s results, Dr. Zemel said, ?There are a number of studies that show a positive effect of milk and increasing dairy augments the effects of cutting calories?. True, but Dr. Zemel did most of them and he receives some funding from the dairy industry and has written a book touting more dairy products as one key to weight control.

1 Obesity Research 2004;12:582

By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN

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