Invitation to Dinner with Dairy UK

A little while back I attended a round table dinner discussion facilitated by Dr Rosemary Leonard.  The subject matter was ‘Weighing up the facts; The Truth about Dairy and Childhood Obesity’.

Invitation to Dinner with Dairy UKThe evenings hosts were of course Dairy UK who had provided an interesting presentation, facts and opened up the debate.

The dinner table discussion comprised of Dr Rosemary Leonard and Dr Ellie Cannon; both prominent media along with being practicing hands on GP’s. The science report was from Dr Anestis Dougkas who had flown in from the Paul Bocuse Institute, France. There was a Press element present and a handful of nutrition people to make up the debate, although it really was more like a conversation!

It’s not often I go out to dinner in London at the Waldorf, so I spruced myself up and headed down on the train. I used the train journey there to think about the subject header. What were my thoughts on Dairy and obesity?

My gut reaction is what I have always considered – that dairy does not contribute to obesity. Of course, if we look back in time to the 1970’s dietary fat of all descriptions was demonised and considered a contributory factor to coronary heart disease. Do we still consider butter, cheese and meat to be a health hazard or do we accept them as nutritional sources as part of a complete and balanced diet?

Well, it would appear that this is where the debate occurs. At the dinner we looked at the facts: –

  • 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016
  • 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016.
  • In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese

Without any doubt we are getting heavier, the question is why

Why is dairy targeted when it comes to tackling obesity when the evidence points to a reduction in dairy consumption?

The UK’s dairy consumption has reduced by a third in the last twenty years, and in America, a 37% reduction since the 1970’s. Since the 1970’s and particularly the last twenty years global obesity rates have significantly increased.

What other nutritional changes have taken place over that same time period?

Well, since the 1970’s we have seen significant changes to our overall food landscape – in fact our diet today in unrecognisable compared to any previous generation!

  • Refined grain consumption has increased
  • Decline in Omega 3 huge increase in Omega 6
  • Introduction of Trans-fats (although technically around a lot longer our intake of them has become much more commonplace with processed foods)
  • Sugar intake significantly increased
  • We are more sedentary than ever before
  • Convenience foods and take-aways are much more prevalent

This list could go on, but with all of this in mind where does Dairy fit?

Some dairy products are of course high in fats, the obvious culprits are butter, cream and cheese. But we know these are high in fat so, we are able to balance our intake of them. We also know that they contain nutrients and that the body is able to metabolise this fat as energy and protein for repair etc.

Now for the science bit!

At the dinner the science report was presented as it has been to the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna:

“The study had taken place over the last 27 years. It concluded that cow’s milk and other diary products do not play a role in the development of childhood obesity and that milk and dairy products were not associated with body fat in children.

Researchers had analysed data from 43 cross sectional studies, 31 longitudinal cohort studies and 20 randomised trials examining the effects of both full and low-fat milk and other dairy products intake on obesity in childhood between January 1990 and June 2017.

In addition, they also examined the possible mechanisms underlying the effect of different milk and dairy products on body weight regulation.

An analysis of the 94 trials involving 203,269 individuals showed that milk and dairy products were not associated with body fatness in children.

The researchers found no evidence to suggest that body fatness varied by type if milk or dairy products, or with the age of the children.”

In conclusion the report summarised: –

  • The available scientific evidence does not support the views of those pointing the finger at dairy when it comes to childhood obesity
  • Milk, cheese and yogurts are nutritious by nature. They can fit into a healthy balanced diet and offer nutritional benefits for all age groups
  • Government measures aimed at reducing childhood obesity need to focus on discretionary calories and lack of physical activity and stop categorising dairy like junk food

So that’s what the science on dairy states so where does the answer to obesity really lie? Do I think it is with dairy?

The easiest answer there is dairy isn’t to blame, and no this isn’t because I attended a dinner with Dairy UK. The hardest part to answer is where does the problem really lie?

  • Decline in overall food knowledge for two generations
  • Misleading marketing on ‘healthy’ products
  • Epigenetic link with obesity meaning each generation is starting out more likely to be obese
  • Processed and convenience food landscape
  • Increase in ‘weird’ ingredients
  • Sugar
  • Lack of activity and exercise
  • The diet industry

Obesity is an extremely complicated issue

Obesity is also not a single issue but that’s a whole other blog post! The point of the dinner and this blog was to look at whether dairy has a role to play in childhood obesity and for that argument I say that it doesn’t as part of a healthy balanced diet.

There are many arguments around dairy, for the purpose of this blog I have chosen to only focus on the link with obesity as that is what the dinner was about, but those many arguments could be contributing to the overall decline in dairy: –

  • People view drinking milk as environmentally unstable
  • Increase in lactose intolerance but perhaps more prevalent an increase in self diagnosed lactose intolerance
  • Milk alternative trends
  • Ethical arguments
  • Hormones added

At the table each of these topics was discussed but not at length – Dairy UK did back up each argument with a counter argument such as the environmental argument – to consume a similar level of nutrients from arable stock the environmental impact would be greater.

Dairy is most certainly a controversial subject and this blog isn’t about comparing the nutritional or environmental impact of diary it is focusing on the link with obesity.

For more information on me and what I am up to check out the website and social media.

Next blog – Christmas!!!

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