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Milk for PMS and Weight Loss-More Failed Marketing

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Everyone Loves 'Got Milk' Ads-But They Don't Sell Milk

In 2005, milk marketers tried to stop falling sales by positioning milk as a cure for premenstrual syndrome, commonly called PMS. TV ads showing bumbling boyfriends and husbands rushing to the store for milk to detoxify their stricken women. But the study on which the campaign was based, credited calcium, not milk, with relieving PMS-a substance found in many sources besides milk (including the "calcium-fortified juices" that milk marketers battle against). And when milk marketers tried to revive the PMS campaign in 2011, the second time around it elicited a tsunami of sexism charges and had to be scrapped.

Then, milk marketers sought an even wider demographic by rolling out the idea of milk as a diet food. "Studies suggest that the nutrients in milk can play an important role in weight loss. So if you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, try drinking 24 ounces of low-fat or fat-free milk every 24 hours as part of your reduced-calorie diet," said the ads. The diet campaign was especially targeted to the Hispanic community, which is known both for its high obesity rates and its low milk consumption. There was even a related school program called "Healthiest Student Bodies," which recognized twenty-five schools around the country for providing "an environment that encourages healthy choices for students."

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The milk-as-a-diet-food campaign had many catchy slogans- "Milk Your Diet," "Body by Milk," "Think about Your Drink," "Why Milk?" "24oz/24hours, 3-a-Day" (and, of course, "Got Milk?")-and the help of hotties Elizabeth Hurley and Sheryl Crowe modeling mustaches. But soon after it debuted, a study of twenty thousand men who increased their intake of low-fat dairy foods found they did not lose weight. "The hypothesis that has been floating around is that increasing dairy can promote weight loss, and in this study, I did not find that," said researcher Swapnil Rajpathak, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Worse, the research behind the weight-loss claims was largely conducted by Michael Zemel, Ph.D, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, who had "patented" the claim that calcium or dairy products could help against obesity. The patent was owned by the university and licensed to Dairy Management Inc., reported USA Today.

The milk-as-a-diet-food suggestions also sounded like a diet to add weight not take weight off. They included, "Make soups and chowders with milk," "Add milk to risotto and rice dishes for a creamier texture," and "Order a milk-based soup like corn chowder, potato leek or cream of broccoli as a first course at dinner." What is the next course- a stick of butter?

Soon the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection directed milk marketers to stop the weight-loss campaign "until further research provides stronger, more conclusive evidence of an association between dairy consumption and weight loss." Milk marketing materials stopped claiming that milk makes drinkers lose weight, instead saying it doesn't necessarily add weight-which is pretty different. They also retooled their claims to say that milk may have "certain nutrients that can help consumers meet dietary requirements"-pretty much the definition of "food."

In February, milk marketers went for an even wider demographic-the set of all people who eat little or no breakfast-or at least a breakfast without milk. Using the bilingual actress Salma Hayek as pitchwoman, the new campaign, called the Breakfast Project, also targets Spanish speaking communities with ads in People en Español and Ser Padres magazines and on the Univision morning show "Despierta América" as well as on English speaking media. "It's Not Breakfast Without Milk," say the new slogans; "Because Every Good Day Starts With Milk," and "Hello, Sunshine."

Like other milk marketing campaigns, the Breakfast Project is upbeat, interactive, inclusive and fun, offering recipes, tips, a "morning survival guide" and even a chance to win free milk. And like the other campaigns, it has little chance of selling a product people don't particular like which is not particularly good for them. We won't even talk about the filth and cruelty of modern dairy farms and what happens to veal calves, a "byproduct" of the industry to keep cows lactating.

Still, milk marketers seem to have learned one lesson from the disproved osteoporosis, PMS and weight loss claims of past campaigns: the Breakfast Project makes no appeal to science or medicine to support the marketed milk benefits. Instead of "studies have shown," or "research has revealed" the new campaign simply says, "We believe milk is part of getting a successful day started." Of course they believe it, they are the dairy industry. Have they ever lied to us?

An earlier version of this story ran on Alternet.org.

Martha Rosenberg's first book, Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been published by Prometheus Books.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health Read more stories by Martha Rosenberg.

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