Health care, particularly in an election year, continues to be a hot topic of conversation among American consumers, health care providers and public officials.  And while the future of health care is to be determined, undeniable shifts have created a new paradigm that doesn’t seem to be waning — and it poses tremendous opportunity for the dairy industry.

Runaway health care costs, physician shortages and new research developments on how genetics and lifestyle behaviors — including eating patterns — relate to disease are ushering in a new era of health care. It’s driven by two huge adjustments. The first is a shift beyond treatment of chronic disease to disease prevention and wellness. Second, new models of health care expand primary care services outside of the traditional doctor’s office and into clinics located within the community, such as schools, churches and drugstores.

We as a society and individuals have the opportunity to know more about our bodies than ever before. Digital health tools from Fitbits to Apple watches easily monitor activity levels, and hundreds (if not thousands) of apps provide nutritional information about food. All of this puts new knowledge and tools in the hands of Americans. We are increasingly empowered to make positive choices — personalized to our genetic makeup, lifestyles and individual goals — to improve our health and maintain wellness. When we do seek medical care or the advice of health professionals, it’s often from a myriad of new venues and providers.

By 2020, an estimated shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians is expected. Health providers such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners are increasingly being utilized to deliver primary care services. Other paraprofessionals are able to narrow the gap.

With the increase in incidence of obesity and related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, health care gatekeepers are focusing on nutrition counseling, wellness, disease prevention and self-management. Some groups, such as low-income and specific ethnic groups, may especially benefit from greater access to health care with a focus on disease prevention and wellness.

Dairy foods and health maintenance

So where do dairy foods fit in? Dairy foods continue to offer an irreplaceable package of nutrients for improved health and wellness. In fact, the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) support dairy’s valuable nutritional portfolio by preserving dairy’s role as one of the five main food groups. The DGA also recommend Americans consume up to three daily servings of dairy, thanks to dairy’s nutrient portfolio and multiple health benefits that science continues to confirm and expand. The DGA also identify a number of key nutrients Americans are under-consuming — among them calcium, vitamin D and potassium — all of which are found in dairy foods.

At a time when milk and dairy foods are often missing from nutrition conversations, the changing health care environment and increased focus on disease prevention and wellness offer the perfect opportunity for the dairy industry’s health assets to thrive. A few ways Dairy Council of California is embracing this space include:

  • Continued education on the nutritional portfolio of dairy foods.  Nutrition education remains our backbone, with free classroom-based programs, aligned to Common Core State Standards, reaching more than 2.5 million California K–12 schoolchildren annually.
  • Using new venues to expand nutrition education opportunities.  We’re continuing to support traditional health care settings, while also putting a focus on new community health service locations. We have partnered with the California School Health Alliance to bring our nutrition education resources to 243 school-based health centers across California to improve adolescent health.
  • Embracing technology. Dairy Council of California’s online tool, the Healthy Eating Planner, allows people to develop customized eating and lifestyle plans based on specific goals such as losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight), improving muscle tone, managing health problems or reducing future health risk.
  • Expanding partnerships. Establishing new partnerships and collaborations with organizations around a common cause is another key strategy. A recent example is our relationship with the California Conference of Local Health Department Nutritionists. Its mission is to build leadership capacity among local health department nutritionists and influence funding for nutrition programs at the local and state levels. Strategic partnerships such as this one fuel credibility and influence.

At Dairy Council of California, we continue to keep our finger on the pulse of the changing health care landscape through our trends tracking process. This allows us to anticipate change and make program and strategy adjustments that provide the best reach and impact possible in today’s environment.

Dairy foods have a strong nutrition story to tell. We remain focused on telling it.