An open letter to the Irish Osteoporosis Society

Sir/Madam,

While I appreciate the sterling efforts of the Irish Osteoporosis Society to raise awareness of a serious and debilitating condition, I am alarmed by its recent high-profile promotional campaign.

Urging citizens to consume more milk (a species-specific infant formula) and other dairy products is not an appropriate course of action if you wish to remedy the increasing incidence of brittle bone disease in this country.

To quote your website:

Dairy products are the richest calcium providers in the diet, and we all need to include them in our daily diet. However, this message can very often be forgotten. For example, research has shown that the consumption of milk is down by 40% compared to twenty years ago, becoming displaced by the soft drinks available on the market. Another Irish study has found that 68% of teenage girls perceive milk to be a fattening food. Is there any wonder that 36% of Irish women do not take enough calcium in their diet?()

While demonstrating detailed knowledge of the consumption and public perception of milk as a brand, I can't help but wonder if your organisation’s well-meaning nutritionist, would not be better employed researching some of the hard science regarding the supposed efficacy of dairy products in the prevention of calcium deficiency.

The rate of calcium absorption from milk is far from very impressive. Indeed, there is much research to demonstrate that due to the excessive amount of accompanying animal proteins, milk in fact causes calcium to be leached from the bones—this results in a calcium deficit and actually increases the risk of osteoporosis.

The information on which your dietary suggestions are based (i.e. that milk is good for your bones) is, no doubt, to be found in the same kind of lazy textbooks which continue propagate other hoary old myths that are commonly debunked yet never seem to die.

As utterly unrelated examples, I might point out that mere minutes of casual research would acquaint one with startling facts such as these:

  • Vikings never wore horns on their helmets
  • Columbus died believing America was India
  • The Great Wall of China is not visible from space

If these counter-intuitive, yet altogether genuine facts cause you any surprise, perhaps you might see fit to revisit(††) with new-found scepticism the ‘evidence’ on which milk’s alleged medical benefits are based—for its claims are every bit as spurious as the common myths debunked above.

Predictably, much of this evidence has arrived courtesy of the National Dairy Council, which, though somehow viewed as a benevolent semi-state educator and public watchdog(†††) , is (regrettably but) firmly in the business of sales.

Their fondest aim, as their literature cheerfully proclaims, is ‘the positive positioning of milk and dairy products in the minds of consumers and an up-lift in the consumption of milk and dairy.’

Alas, contrary to the misleading protein-heavy food pyramids (provided by the NDC to our grateful and under-funded schools) which we may have studied as children, milk is neither a necessary nor a particularly healthful addition to diet of humans.

Perhaps the I.O.S. itself was also beguiled by the NDC's  ambiguous persona? Here's hoping they select more impartial and ingenous collaborators  in future.

Yours (with heartfelt encouragement),

Darwin

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Postscript: While I hardly expect any readers to experience some sort of Damascene conversion, thus immediately swearing off the white stuff for good, I would quietly hope that the more discerning amongst you would inquire of your own mind exactly how and where your own perceptions of milk's virtues may have been formed.

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Endnotes:
  1. http://www.irishosteoporosis.ie/debeau.htm [back ↩]
  2. †† Resources: NotMilk, NoMilk. [back ↩]
  3. ††† See their various 'official' publications on Health, Weight Loss, Allergies, Nutrition etc. How can these be compatible with the NDC's role as indiscriminate dairy industry cheerleader? While ostensibly benign, these leaflets' primary purpose is not the well-being of the consumer but the relentless promotion of dairy products. [back ↩]