As potential litigation simmers, the dairy industry
continues its proactive stand against obesity.
by Pamela Accetta Smith
The nation is struggling with a health crisis of epidemic proportions
— more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and this
percentage has been growing at an alarming pace for the past 20 years.
In 1980, 47 percent of American adults were overweight. Today, overweight and
obese adults comprise 65 percent of the population.
Approximately 9 million Americans are “morbidly
obese” — overweight by at least 100 pounds — and the
nation’s weight issue is becoming an economic drain on the nation.
Determining the cause of the nation’s health
crisis is spurring a heated debate, with answers vacillating between
finding genetic or hormonal causes, blaming the consumer, the food industry
or the sedentary lifestyles that many Americans lead.
The issues are complex, and the truth is that no
definitive conclusion unites all theories and factors. But what is clear is
that the food industry has been asked to respond to the obesity epidemic
with responsible products and marketing messages that are in the best
interest of our nation’s health.
This new food paradigm will require changes from all involved
— consumers, food companies, industry organizations and the medical community
— if we are to become a slimmer, healthier nation. And it doesn’t
hurt to have IDFA backing you either.
Food manufacturers and the restaurant industry are beginning to concentrate
on childhood obesity, too. With more nutritious products, healthier menus and
new activity programs, companies have begun a big push aimed at the youngest
But critics say these companies are taking a new
direction only to escape or mitigate possible court verdicts that could
blame the food industry for the fact a good portion of American youths now
are plumper than they should be.
How exactly does the dairy industry fit into all of
this? Walk more, eat less and include dairy products to help burn fat is
the scuttlebutt of late. More specifically, scientific research indicates
that including lowfat dairy products in the diet can help burn fat. In
fact, industry marketers have created several campaigns leveraging data to
show dairy’s positive impact on weight maintenance.
Organizations Weigh In
According to Washington, D.C.-based International
Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the current obesity crisis and issues
concerning proper nutrition are driving dairy product development and
education efforts. “We have heard of a variety of companies within
all segments of the industry who are working on product formulations and
concepts that maximize their weight-loss positioning,” says Tom
Nagle, IDFA vice president of marketing. “Our regulatory team is
working to promote dairy ingredients as part of formulations for lower-fat,
sugar and carbohydrate products.”
Organizations such as IDFA strive to promote
dairy’s place in a healthy diet. Just how IDFA fits into the equation
as dairy positions itself for a bigger role in better nutrition is clear,
says Nagle. “We are positioned as a leader. IDFA, the Milk Processor
Education Program (MilkPEP) and DMI together launched the Healthy Weight
with Dairy campaign to educate consumers about dairy’s role in weight
loss. The campaign’s two ads kicked off the entire initiative last
fall,” he says. “IDFA is also the administrator for the license
dairy companies need to use to promote weight-loss claims with their
MilkPEP continues to produce marketing communications
that are still the strongest voice for dairy and weight loss — both
in terms of spending, and development of increasingly specific and compelling claims, says Nagle. “Prior to the
Healthy Weight with Dairy effort, MilkPEP focused many of its ads on
good-for-you messages with claims about stronger bones and teeth, and
beauty,” he says. “Of course, now we’re adding
In terms of health-claim licensing, the University of
Tennessee holds a patent on some of the key research concerning calcium and
weight loss, and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has exclusive rights to the
license for this research. “Therefore, IDFA and DMI have completed an
agreement that allows licensed companies to make claims in advertising and
on labels for qualified products regarding dairy and weight loss,”
says Nagle. “Companies that make claims but do not have a license
could face legal action.”
As more and more research on the role dairy products
play in weight loss is published, the claims processors can use will
continue to evolve, says Nagle. “As the evidence mounts, the more
aggressive the claims will become,” he says. “Currently,
we’re putting the final touches on new claims for packaging,
point-of-sale and advertising materials that are a little stronger than the
original claims we developed.”
It’s also important to realize, says Nagle, that
weight-loss claims are not considered “health claims” and
therefore do not need pre-clearance from the Food and Drug Administration.
“These claims still need to be substantiated by science,” he
Although IDFA isn’t aware of any litigation
against the dairy industry, Nagle says IDFA and MilkPEP are educating
companies to make sure they understand that they need a license from IDFA
to make any weight-loss claims. “Without a license, companies could
face legal action,” he warns.
To that end, IDFA has created a marketing guidance
memo containing examples of weight-loss claims. “While not
all-inclusive, the memo gives general guidance on what kinds of claims can
be made, depending on the product. Once companies apply for and receive a
license, IDFA will give them more detailed marketing guidance information
to use in developing product and marketing claims,” says Nagle.
“Because of the context-specific nature of the legal standards, dairy
processors are advised to have their proposed labeling, advertising and
other promotional materials reviewed by IDFA or qualified legal counsel to
Overall, IDFA believes the existence of an array of
compelling scientific research positions dairy as a weight-loss solution,
not part of the obesity problem, says Nagle. “However, inherent in
being perceived as part of the solution, is being responsible in the use of
claims,” he says.
It’s important, Nagle says, for dairy processors
to expedite the connection of weight-loss messages with their brands.
“While we don’t know all the reasons why dairy foods help you
lose weight when on a reduced-calorie diet, we do know that calcium is a
key player in the process,” he says. “Therefore, processors
need to jump on these messages and own them before other calcium-fortified
foods make similar claims.”
IDFA is behind dairy’s
nutrition/obesity-related marketing efforts and strategies. “For
2004 and 2005, MilkPEP’s primary strategy is promoting milk’s
role in weight loss. Last spring MilkPEP launched the ‘24/24 Milk
Your Diet, Lose Weight’ initiative, which includes public relations,
advertising and promotional efforts,” Nagle says. “More
specifically, one side of the Milk Mustache Mobile has been re-designed to
include weight-loss messaging aimed at moms. The vehicles travel with a
portable diet bar that allows processors to sample smoothies and other
nutritious drinks made with milk. Often a registered dietitian is on hand
to answer consumer questions about nutrition and milk’s role in
New television and print ads, says Nagle, educate moms
about milk’s weight-loss benefits in a reduced-calorie diet.
“To date, TV talk show host Dr. Phil and actress Kelly Preston have
donned milk mustaches for print ads,” he says. “Three new
television spots have aired on TV. This summer, MilkPEP’s ‘The
Shape You Want to Be In’ promotion educated consumers about
milk’s weight-loss role at retailers and then the ‘Show Off
with the Top Down’ promotion rewarded consumers for adding milk to
their diets by giving away 24 VW convertible Beetles.
“On the Internet, MilkPEP’s promotion with
WebMD gave consumers a chance to find their ideal weight and learn how milk
can play a role in their weight-loss efforts. We’ve also launched a
new Web site, www.2424milk.com
, that has all of the medical research
and other resources to educate consumers about milk’s role in weight
In 2005, MilkPEP has two new promotions lined-up for
weight loss. One will partner with ABC-TV’s “The View,”
the other with the Curves women’s fitness center chain. “New
ads are in the works to continue to use celebrities to help make this
claim,” Nagle says.
In terms of addressing obesity, especially among
children, Chelsea, Mass.-based HP Hood LLC works closely with its school
customers to develop programs to help educate children on the benefits of
drinking milk and consuming dairy.
In fact, the company launched a new line of milk
available in 8-ounce paper packages and 10-ounce plastic containers to kick
off this school year. The new school milk packages were designed to be more
appealing to students with hope of ultimately increasing milk consumption.
Each package exhibits a cow graphic participating in a popular sport such
as skateboarding, bicycling, baseball, soccer or basketball. Varieties
include 1%, 2% and fat-free white, as well as lowfat chocolate and
“The graphics on Hood’s new 8- and
10-ounce school milk packages communicate the message of nutrition and
exercise and target an important audience: children,” says Cindi
Arvanites, Hood senior brand manager. “The graphics are intended to
encourage physical activity and healthy, nutritious eating habits, while
being kid friendly.”
Given the recent statistics on childhood obesity, says
Arvanites, it’s more important than ever to encourage students to
make healthy choices. “We converted our 8-ounce milk line to a more
attractive package and package design and introduced a new 10-ounce plastic
package to enhance the school milk program,” she says. “We hope
to see an increase in participation of the school meal program as well as
an increase in milk consumption.”
In addition to encouraging youngsters to drink more
milk, Hood has created a variety of dairy products for those Americans
following a low-carb lifestyle in their weight-management efforts.
The company says it’s providing a solution for
the estimated 24 million Americans following a low-carb lifestyle who may
be lamenting the absence of dairy in their diet. “With an average of
12 grams of carbs per 8-ounce serving of white milk and 33 grams of carbs
per 6-ounce serving of regular yogurt, it hasn’t always been easy to
work such dairy products into this lifestyle,” Hood notes in a recent
The solution is Carb Countdown, Hood’s
line of dairy beverages and yogurts touted as the only such product line
approved by Atkins Nutritionals. “Many consumers following a low-carb
lifestyle have told us they miss milk and yogurt in their lives,”
says Mary Ellen Spencer, vice president of brand marketing.
“Our Carb Countdown line of dairy products includes delicious and
healthy milk and yogurt replacements that provide an ideal combination of
protein, bone-building calcium and significantly reduced carbs.”
Atkins was enthusiastic about teaming up with Hood for
the new line, says Matt Wiant, chief marketing officer for Ronkonkoma,
N.Y.-based Atkins Nutritionals Inc. “There are many health benefits
in milk and yogurt products, but their carbohydrate content makes it
difficult to include them in a low-carb lifestyle on a regular basis. Now
with Hood Carb Countdown dairy products, there is a healthy
solution,” Wiant says.
Made from milk, Carb Countdown provides milk’s
essential vitamins and minerals but with significantly fewer grams of
carbs, in part due to the use of the no-calorie sweetener Splenda®. Hood’s
Carb Countdown Reduced Sugar Lowfat Yogurt, which also contains the Atkins
seal of approval, is a good source of calcium, contains live and active
cultures, and 3 grams of net carbs, the company says. The 6-ounce cup
yogurts, offered in strawberry, strawberry banana, French vanilla,
raspberry, peach and blueberry, are also sweetened with Splenda.
Another processor meeting America’s health
concerns head on is Des Moines, Iowa-based Anderson Erickson Dairy Co.,
which communicates dairy’s weight-loss benefits in many of its
“Even though as processors we have been hearing
about the link between dairy products and weight loss for nearly two years,
this message is new to consumers,” says Miriam Erickson Brown, AE
president and chief operating officer. “I am certain consumers need
to hear our new milk health messages — from weight loss and
management to the general nutritional components of milk.”
Marketing at AE is very brand oriented, says Brown.
“As a part of that, we like to provide the latest breaking news about
dairy to our customers,” she says. “For the past four years, we
have been telling AE customers about the nutritional benefits of milk in
our marketing campaigns. We combined the current research along with
branded messages to tell them why milk especially, needs to be a part of
their diet plan.
“Sixty-five percent of Americans are overweight,
and this summer one-third of the nation was either following or had been
following a low-carbohydrate diet. Our most important goal right now is to
get the word out about the weight loss and dairy link. I call it being a
‘dairy ambassador.’ The message definitely fits the trends, it
is supported by the medical community and is golden. Never before have we
had a better story to tell.”
Brown says it is important to position milk as a
nutritional powerhouse and tell people that no matter what diet they
choose, dairy has a place in that diet. “At AE we use this message
— and have been — in our television, radio, billboard and
point-of-sale advertising,” she says. “Of course, we do have a
license to use the weight-loss claim from IDFA and have followed their
recommendations in terms of our messages.”
According to Brown, there is a lot of misinformation
about dieting and how dairy fits into that equation. “I especially
like to talk about the natural goodness of milk, that it does not contain
artificial sweeteners and has nine essential ingredients a body
needs,” she says, “emphasizing that for consumers to get the
weight-loss and other disease-fighting benefits of milk, you have to
consume dairy, not just a supplement containing calcium. That is very
The company’s primary goal is to tell consumers
how AE milk fits into their diet plan, says Brown. “Most people
eliminate milk when they begin to diet,” she says. “Now we tell
them if they want to lose weight and maintain muscle, keep the weight off,
burn more fat, lose weight around their waist and prevent disease,
three glasses of milk with a reduced-calorie diet is the best choice.
“We have to get the message out and then we have
to give consumers time to believe it. When I speak with friends and family
about all of the new research, they often react with shock and then
disbelief. When they see that the medical community is behind the claims,
they start drinking more milk. It takes patience, time and
Because the dairy industry has made the commitment to
fund and provide research on milk and dairy, Brown believes this protects
manufacturers from litigation and adds to overall credibility. “The
work continues, and I feel confident that if we are challenged, we have the
studies to back our findings,” she says.
Shape of the Future
In the end, the obesity epidemic is problematic
because a true solution will require action on several fronts, including
changes in consumer behavior as well as reformulation of food products. For
the industry, research indicates it may be as easy as promoting what
already exists — encouraging the intake of calcium by consuming
lowfat dairy products as a way to maintain weight.
With the support of conscientious organizations,
educational programs and innovative producers, the dairy industry will
continue to do its part in fighting the war against obesity. df
Obesity statistics and information taken in part from
“Fed in America,” Stagnito’s
New Products Magazine, August 2003.
Obesity Fast Stats
The topic of obesity has statisticians working overtime. Here
are a few of their findings:
In 1980, 45 percent of adults in the United States were overweight or
obese; by 1990, it was 55 percent. Today it’s 65 percent.
Fifteen percent of children between the ages 6 to 19 are overweight,
an increase of 10 percent during the past 10 years.
The cost of obesity to the U.S. economy is estimated to be $120 billion
a year in medical expenses and lost productivity.
Traditional clothing retailers report more than 20 percent of all
clothing sales for women are plus sizes.
Obesity was the most reported food story of 2003, with the Atkins
diet close behind.
Demand for eggs created by Atkins diet followers created a 20-year
high egg price in 2003.
Nearly 32 million Americans say they are on some kind of reduced-carbohydrate
Studies of twins indicate 50 to 70 percent of the tendency toward
obesity is inherited. The chances of becoming obese if both parents are obese
are 60 to 80 percent. The chances when both parents are thin is 9 percent. There
is no indication that the tendency to be overweight is inherited.
Worldwide, obesity affects 300 million adults and 17.6 million children
younger than 5.
Of the 10.3 million cases of cancer per year, 3 to 4 million may
be preventable with proper diet and exercise, according to the World Health
About 150 million people worldwide have Type II diabetes. That figure
is expected to double by 2025 due to aging, diet, obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
Americans spend more than $33 billion annually on weight-loss products
Sources: USA Today; Hunter Public Relations; Harris Interactive/Knight Ridder/Tribune
Business News; Euromonitor/World Health Association; IRI/The Centers for Disease
Control; eMedical Supplies and Equipment Inc.
Overweight or Obese?
Most Americans are unclear on what makes someone
“overweight” and how one is diagnosed as “obese.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person
with a body-mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 is overweight, and a person
with a BMI above 30 is considered obese.
BMI is a calculated ratio of weight to height. Some of the dissenting
voices in the obesity issue point out that a 5-foot-6-inch woman weighing 155
would be considered overweight at a BMI of 25, yet this body shape and size
is not considered abnormal.
But despite the debate over where the line should be drawn, it is clear that
Americans have been gaining weight.
The American Obesity Association (AOA) uses the following
criteria for determining overweight and obesity:
Overweight and obesity for children and adolescents are
defined as being at or above the 85th and 95th percentiles, respectively, of
Some researchers refer to the 95th percentile as overweight, others as
obesity. The CDC, which provides national statistical data for weight status
of American youth, avoids using the word “obesity,” and identifies
every child and adolescent above the 85th percentile as “overweight.”
The AOA uses the 95th percentile as criteria for
obesity because it:
Corresponds to a BMI of 30, which is obesity in adults.
The 85th percentile corresponds to a BMI of 25, which is adult overweight.
Is recommended as a marker for when children and adolescents should have
an in-depth medical assessment.
Identifies children that are very likely to have obesity persist into
Is associated with elevated blood pressure and lipids in older adolescents,
and increases their risk of diseases.
Is a criteria for more aggressive treatment.
Is a criteria in clinical trials of childhood obesity treatments.
Taken from “Shape of the Nation,” Stagnito’s New Products
Magazine, August 2003.
Dairy Council of California
Group makes it easier to eat healthy.
Since 1919, the Dairy
Council of California (DCC) has been an innovator in nutrition education.
Its vision leading into the 21st century is to become the recognized
pioneer in advancing the role of food in achieving whole health through
The organization says its nutrition education programs
for school-age children and adults have touched the lives of millions of
Californians, enhancing health and well-being by enabling individuals to
make healthful food and lifestyle choices.
DCC embraces a nutrition approach that centers on a
core of lowfat choices, based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. Individuals
are encouraged to eat a wide variety of foods, moderate portion sizes and
balanced food choices over time. The organization believes all foods can be
a part of healthful eating when managed for variety, moderation and
The Council does not label individual foods as
“good” or “bad,” recognizing that favorite
foods, regardless of fat or calorie count, can be part of a balanced diet
when using the above principles. It values individual choice and recognizes
there are multiple factors influencing food decisions, including taste,
family and cultural traditions.
The organization promotes 30 to 60 minutes of daily
physical activity along with a nutritious diet to enhance overall health
Regarding its education philosophy, DCC says it
strives to be on the leading edge in applying the latest, proven
educational methodologies. The organization’s individualized learning
model supports multiple learning styles. DCC maintains that truly effective
nutrition education works best one person at a time, when individuals are
educated to make the best food choices for themselves and their families,
and can clearly see how to put their choices into action.
The organization works with education and nutrition
experts to develop its programs and, through constant monitoring,
identifies emerging trends in health, nutrition and education. As a result,
its programs reflect advances in research and the most current health
DCC’s school programs connect to core
curriculum, making it easier for teachers to teach nutrition education
while teaching California content standards. The organization’s staff
of experts develops its programs with input from teachers, education
consultants and health professionals.
Meals Matter, a non-commercial Web site developed and
supported by DCC, provides customized nutrition information that enables
users to plan healthier family meals. The interactive educational tools,
thousands of recipes, cookbook, meal planning calendar and shopping lists
provide a range of useful features to make planning healthy meals easier.
Meals Matter was developed to promote healthy food choices for
families. The site’s Back-to-School Health Feature, for example, contains
advice for parents including healthy lunch and snack ideas, nutrition information
and recipes. Registered dietitians who are skilled in education create practical
and nutritionally accurate tools customizable to a family’s unique needs
Informative articles, downloadable references, interactive tools and nutrition
activities can be found at www.mealsmatter.org.
As with all of the Council’s initiatives, its Calcium Connection
program addresses weight management by using a behavior-change model to help
instill positive lifestyle changes.
But this program is unique in that it targets women
throughout their lives with information that applies to their specific life
stage and age. In addition, women can use this information for themselves
and/or their mothers or daughters.
Dairy Council of California is a not-for-profit
organization funded by the dairy industry. For more information on the
organization and its programs, visit www.dairycouncilofca.org.
In June, retailers across
the country began featuring the “The Shape You Want to be In”
promotion sponsored by the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP). The
promotion is part of MilkPEP’s “24/24 Milk Your Diet. Lose
Weight!” initiative that was launched in May to spread the word to
consumers about the scientific link between milk and weight loss.
In the “Shape” promotion, MilkPEP
partnered with Shape magazine to distribute about 13 million copies of
a 24/24-themed weight-loss guide, offered free with any milk purchase. The
guide includes articles about milk, healthy living, weight loss and
exercise tips from the magazine.
In addition, the publication contains more than $300
in coupons and a mail-in offer for a “starter kit,” which
includes an hourglass-shaped bottle to help consumers count up 24 ounces of
milk each day.