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Don't blame milk for the rise in childhood obesity

Farming | Published:

While beef and dairy have currently been thrown in the spotlight by the recent United Nations climate change report, milk cannot be blamed for the rise in obesity, especially the alarming increase in child obesity.

John Sumner from Shropshire is an independent dairy specialist

A recent report by Cancer UK showed that being overweight is the UK’s biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, causing six per cent of cancer cases in the UK each year. Furthermore, being overweight or obese causes more cases of certain types of common cancers than does smoking.

Earlier in the year, a dairy industry conference organised by Dairy UK entitled ‘Weighing up the Facts? Does Dairy Deliver?’ was held to examine the critical role of the dairy industry in meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The agenda included this very topic of obesity and weight, especially in relation to children and diet, including milk and dairy.

Recent research reviews had looked at the issue of obesity in children and the relationship with diet, and how that relationship was influenced by socio/economic background. Somewhat alarmingly, the outcome showed that some 23 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls aged between four and five years old were either overweight or obese. For those aged 10 to 11, the figures rose to 36 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. Furthermore, children from less well-off families were more likely to be overweight or obese.

Importantly, the research reviews found that milk and other dairy products were consistently not associated, or inversely associated, with obesity and weight gain in children.

It seems that the words milk and saturated fat still set off danger signals in the minds of some people. Yet, the concern that eating foods high in saturated fats, such as milk and dairy products, could increase the risk of developing health problems such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, was addressed some years ago.

The science then showed there is no significant association between milk and dairy foods and the risk of developing heart disease and dairy type 2 diabetes. On the contrary, some studies have even shown protective effects. There seems to be too much attention paid to fat and not enough to the other valuable micronutrients milk contains.

Dairy UK does a sterling job promoting the importance of milk and dairy in the human diet at home and overseas, and all involved with the industry should help carry the positive messages.

John Sumner from Shropshire is an independent dairy specialist

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