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Milk: It's what's in the vending machine

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Milk: It's what's in the vending machine

The recent decision by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes to remove their high calorie sodas and sugary drinks from US school vending machines is good news for the milk industry.

For years, industry representatives have warned of a "calcium crisis" because Americans consume 52 gallons of soft drinks a year compared with 25 gallons of milk. (1) Now that may change. (Thank you Bill Clinton.)

But it's an uphill battle. Despite the popular, much spoofed Got Milk/mustache campaign--which has used every B list celebrity except Monica Lewinski (blue dress overtones)--sales have been falling, not rising, since the nineties. (2

After all, kids dislike milk. That's why they invented chocolate milk. So do teens, young adults, dieters, athletes, health food eaters, ethnic minorities, allergics, drinkers, smokers, animal advocates, the lactose intolerant, doctors and dieticians who aren't on the dairy payroll. (both of them) Even the baby boom guru, Dr. Spock, condemned milk in the end.

Milk producers have tried everything to reverse falling sales. Remember the strong bones/"does a body good" campaign of the late nineties which targeted young women with the message that milk would prevent osteoporosis?

Problem was young women don't worry about getting osteoporosis forty years from now. (Or lung or skin cancer, their smoking and use of tanning beds suggests.) They do, however, worry about their weight which makes milk the skunk at the proverbial picnic.

Of course there was another problem: the allegation wasn't true. While few studies found milk prevented fractures, the gold standard Nurses' Health Studies found women who ate the most dairy products had more fractures. Oh well. (3)

Then the milk industry disinterred the designers of Joe Camel to refashion milk bottles into aren't-you-having-fun? hand friendly decanters with cutesy names--but it fooled no one. (See: trying hide a pill in a dog or cat's favorite food.)

Last year, in desperation, they tried positioning milk as a cure for PMS ("we're talkin' half the population" you can hear one milk exec exclaiming to the other.) TV ads showed bumbling boyfriends and husbands rushing to the store for milk to detoxify their stricken women. Unfortunately, the campaign also lasted as long as a trip to the store.

Now comes the Great American Weight Loss Challenge, a new campaign that positions milk as a diet food, just like pizza and lasagna.

"Studies suggest that the nutrients in milk can play an important role in weight loss. So if you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, try drinking 24 ounces of low-fat or fat-free milk every 24 hours as part of your reduced-calorie diet," say the ads.

The accompanying web site, www.2424milk.com (get it?) offers meal plans, online food journals, recipes, tips and success stories about women just like you.

There is even a traveling related school program--"Healthiest Student Bodies"--and campaign geared toward the Hispanic community, which has been hard hit by obesity.

"What we have shown is that increasing dairy intake within the context of a reduced-calorie diet significantly increases the amount of weight you lose and the amount of fat you lose," says Michael Zemel, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, upon whose research most of the claims rest. The studies were funded by the dairy industry and General Mills, which makes Yoplait products. (4)

Zemel has patented (sic) the claim that calcium or dairy products can prevent or treat obesity which the university now owns and licensed it to Dairy Management Inc.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by (more...)

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