Scientific advances in genetics, nutrition and clinical medicine continue to accelerate new opportunities for optimizing personal and public health.

Dairy Council of California’s trends tracking process suggests that the forces driving these advances include intense pressure to manage health-care costs, the anticipated and unforeseen consequences of the Affordable Care Act and an emerging shortage of primary care physicians. Add technology to the mix and the result is a game-changing climate marked by increased emphasis on — and scrutiny of — the role of personal responsibility for optimal health.

Insurance companies and employers will increasingly provide financial incentives for healthier behaviors, including nutritious food choices and physical activity, as part of the health care prescription. Some companies are already rewarding behaviors deemed conducive to good health while others are choosing to penalize noncompliance. The Affordable Care Act will only put more pressure toward prevention and healthy behaviors.

Bad news, good news for dairy

A challenge, as identified in the Food Foresight 2013 trends report, will be that the food groups consumers have known and loved for decades will be replaced by technology-driven individual assessments and personalized nutrition, moving away from recommendations for entire food groups, including dairy. That’s the bad news.

The good news for dairy is that individual dairy products, components of milk and their health benefits will be positively highlighted in these individualized assessments. In balance, the change will be a “win” for milk and dairy products.

“It will be increasingly difficult and unjustifiable to make public health recommendations based on categories of foods when research shows that the individual foods in each category can vary widely in their health benefits,” said Carl Keen, professor of nutrition at University of California, Davis, in this year’s Food Foresight report. “As this plays out, some foods traditionally classified as nutritious will see their health aura improve while others will lose their health halo.”

Dairy takes center stage

Fortunately, the health halo surrounding the family of dairy foods only grows stronger. As leaders in health care grapple with staggering costs that are simply not sustainable, nutrition (and physical activity) will increasingly take center stage as key to disease prevention and optimal health.

The dairy industry is in a good spot because its investment in nutrition research continues to build a case for milk’s irreplaceable package of nutrients. Another key to this nutrient-rich package is that it comes in a relatively low-calorie food. With emphasis on the worldwide obesity/overweight epidemic, there is a premium on food that is nutrient-rich and lower in calories — that’s milk and dairy. Findings from multiple studies and major universities continue to expand milk’s promise for bone health plus a list of other benefits:

  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Reducing the risk of some cancers
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Supporting healthier weight/enhancing satiety
  • Reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Improving intestinal health

Technology and informed consumers

New segments of highly engaged consumers aim to take control of their health and manage the nature and cost of their health care. In the future, consumers may see their bodies under continuous surveillance with the help of smartphones and nanosensors. These technologies will provide physicians and individuals with real-time responses to lifestyle choices.

This movement, which puts consumers at the center of the health care system, provides the opportunity to educate — in real time — consumers on what to buy and/or eat.

It is easy to envision how these technologies may result in significant winners and losers in the health-food market once consumers are armed with ways to evaluate which foods are best for them. In a similar vein, the potential for negative health effects of some foods may be revealed at a personal level.

 Dairy Council of California’s aim is to reach more children and adults more times and in more ways. As the health care environment changes and technology advances, we will all be better equipped to ensure dairy’s place in a new health landscape.