California Dairy Council “Milk! Secrets, Stories & Facts of America’s Favorite Natural Beverage"

Editor's note: The Dairy Council of California, Sacramento, works on behalf of California dairy farmers and milk processors to provide free nutrition lesson plans and programs to school children and their families. It identified 10 trends that are affecting or influencing milk consumption in 2013.

1. Protein is a hot food component

Once esteemed only by athletes to build muscle mass, protein’s list of benefits expands to other groups as well—from dieters in their weight-management efforts to older adults trying to maintain their muscle mass and function. Some authorities believe the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) should be reevaluated considering these additional benefits and should be 50 percent higher than the current 46 grams per day recommended for women and 56 grams per day for men. Research is also focusing on type and timing of protein intake throughout the day to optimize body composition, blood pressure, satiety, insulin sensitivity, weight management and other health considerations.

Milk protein is positioned positively as a high-quality protein. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently recommended a new method of measuring protein quality, which showcases dairy’s protein profile even more strongly. Studies in exercise recovery and rehydration indicate positive effects of milk and whey protein consumption on lean mass and body composition, as well as improved performance. Dairy Council of California has efforts underway to expound on the benefits of protein at meals and snacks.

2. Diabetes incidence continues to escalate

It is estimated that one in 10 adults in the United States today is diabetic, and if current trends continue this will reach one in three by 2050. Almost all states have seen increases in diabetes incidence over the past few years, explained by the close association of overweight and type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle modification continues to be seen as critical in prevention and treatment of diabetes. Weight loss, physical activity and food intake based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the cornerstones to diabetes management.

Research supports a protective effect of dairy against diabetes and metabolic syndrome—the cluster of risk factors including overweight, high blood pressure, abnormal lipids and insulin resistance. Multiple studies have shown a relationship between dairy consumption and lower rates of diabetes/metabolic syndrome. However, clinical trials need to be conducted to draw definitive conclusions and to prove that dairy is more than a marker for a healthy lifestyle. Dairy Council of California is staying abreast of this research and sharing it, as consensus science warrants, with health professionals, educators and consumers.

3. Food and health choices will be incentivized

With the rise in worksite wellness programs, the upcoming implementation of universal health care and the strong evidence that prevention is more effective than treatment, our model of health care is changing. Companies are offering discounts, providing wellness clinics and incentivizing healthy behaviors; hospital chains are facilitating lifestyle changes before writing prescriptions; and registered dietitians, health educators and nurse practitioners are being recruited to help educate patients about healthy habits.

Dairy could bode well in this incentivized arena, as dairy foods are often associated with improved nutrient intakes; lower body weight; lower blood pressure; reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers; and generally better health profiles. Economic analyses of long-term dairy consumption are very positive, with recent studies showing a significant cost savings in preventing hip fracture, hypertension and other chronic diseases through adequate milk consumption. Such analyses emphasize the importance of lifelong adequate consumption of dairy to meet dietary recommendations. Dairy Council of California will continue its education efforts to demonstrate not only the health care savings but also the personal benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle at all ages.

4. Obesity-related diseases still a health crisis in spite of some abatement

Obesity is now the leading cause of disabilities around the world. For the first time in history, obesity-related diseases—rather than communicable diseases—are the leading cause of sickness and injury. However, in some cities such as New York and Los Angeles, childhood obesity rates are plateauing or even dropping slightly. In the past decade, calorie intake has dropped 7 percent in boys and 4 percent in girls. Progress toward reducing the prevalence of overweight/obesity is credited to public health efforts such as exercise programs, new snack guidelines, revamped school meal regulations, less “junk food” advertising to children, calorie listings on restaurant menus, availability of reduced fat/calorie products and other public policy efforts. Research is focusing on frequency of meals, taste and satiety regulators and the true impact of “added sugars” as potential causes of weight gain.

In addition to public policy, nutrition education and behavior modification play equally important roles in obesity prevention. Dairy Council of California will continue its efforts in school, health care and wellness arenas to promote healthy food choices. Equipping children with skills to form healthy habits at an early age, supporting the importance of family meals to reinforce balanced food choices that include milk and milk products and finding time for daily physical activity are examples of behavior-change strategies. Such efforts are critical for the long-term success of obesity prevention efforts. Nutrition education and public policy must work hand-in-hand in this arena.

On the next page: The challenges to milk consumption continue due to a litany of complex concerns.