Dairy industry steps up for obesity battle

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dairy uk, Nutrition, Obesity

A number of leading dairy experts believe that the industry is
"unfairly" blamed for contributing to the growing
worldwide obesity crises, and more must be done to promote the
dietary benefits of its products.

The claims were made by leading figures and nutritionists involved in dairy production at meeting over obesity concerns held by the national industry association Dairy UK in London yesterday to discuss the challenges ahead. Obesity has become an increasingly important topic in food and beverage production as consumer concerns grow over the need for health and nutritional benefits in their products. The dairy industry claims that it can therefore aid and not hinder moves towards encouraging healthier diets. According to Dairy UK, research from the US suggests that pre-school children that do not consume enough milk-based products in their diet were actually more susceptible to gaining body fat, than more regular consumers. These claims were backed by Dr Cindy Schweitzer, technical director for the industry consortium Global Dairy Platform. "According to over 30 studies, milk products could play a role in losing and maintaining weight,"​ she told delegates at the conference. "In fact, these studies reveal that milk products may help you lose weight as part of a low-calorie diet, or help prevent weight gain."​ Schweitzer added that this message was not being recognised by consumers though, and that a trend was developing for people aiming to lose weight to drop dairy from their diets. She claimed that this approach had been labelled as "counter productive"​ by some dietary experts. Schweitzer said that calcium-rich dairy foods have been linked to creating benefits for some body tissue in storing, mobilising and oxidising fats for better control over an individuals weight. "Although milk products are not a magic solution, it would seem that consuming adequate quantities could provide an added benefit in weight management,"​ she stated. "Scientific evidence shows that consuming three daily servings of dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese as part of a reduced calorie diet actually increases weight loss."​ Fellow speaker Dr Theo Ockhuizen said that a politically driven international focus on nutrient profiling was not helping the dairy industry's attempts to promote itself as being beneficial to dieting. The concept of nutrient profiling was introduced to address concerns that health claims on foods high in substances such as fats and salt would contribute to rising obesity levels. ​ The concept has been vigorously attacked by many in the food industry who say that foods currently accepted as healthy, such as margarine with phytosterols, calcium-enriched fruit juice or iodised salt, would gain an unfavourable nutrient profile under this law. "It is an emotional decision provoked by pressure from consumer organizations,"​ Ockhuizen stated. "The emphasis on nutrients rather than on healthy dietary patterns could lead to unbalanced dietary patterns."​ In concluding the talks, Dairy UK chairman and British politician David Curry said that governments and education systems should dedicate themselves to promoting the importance of having a balanced diet. "Only then can you communicate true nutritional advice, so we struggle with strategies which seek only to reduce targeted single components in food,"​ he said. These sentiments were backed in part by national health charity The British Heart Foundation, which stressed that no one type of food or beverage product could ensure a health diet. A spokesperson for the charity said that a balanced diet, reliant on no one particular food stuff, therefore remained the best way for consumers to stave off obesity.

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