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Anti-dairy group opens campaign attacking benefits of milk

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claims milk does little to prevent osteoporosis.  
March 2, 1999
Web posted at: 5:33 p.m. EST (2233 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Advocates of a strict vegetarian diet showed off an advertising campaign attacking some of the touted benefits of milk on Tuesday.

The Physicans Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes a diet free of animal products, launched the campaign at a news conference. The group endorses a "vegan" diet, which rejects even dairy products and eggs.

The group's advertising claims "milk does not protect from broken bones" and is "useless against bone breaks." The group also claims that the body does not absorb the calcium in milk at acceptable levels, doing little to help fight against osteoporosis. The ads will appear in the Washington area, in medical journals and newspapers and on Web sites.

"Milk does not protect against bone breaks," said Patricia Bertron, a spokeswoman for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "And Americans have always been told to drink milk, yet more than 25 million Americans have osteoporosis."

Osteoporosis is a disease which makes bones fragile and more likely to break. It affects approximately 28 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. Americans suffer about 1.5 million fractures of the spine, hip, wrist and other bones each year due to osteoporosis, the group estimates.

To back up its claims, which contradict the opinions of public health officials and osteoporosis prevention organizations, the committee cites two major studies: One is from the 78,000-person, 12-year Harvard Nurses' Health Study, the other from Australia.

"The studies that we found quite clearly show that increased consumption of milk and dairy products does not protect against bone fractures," said Lauri Chonko, another member of the vegetarian group. "So we're not saying that calcium isn't important, but we're saying that milk is not going to help protect your bones."

Food Calcium (milligrams)
Milk (skim and low-fat), 1 cup 300
Tofu set with calcium, 1/2 cup 258
Yogurt, 1 cup (average of low-fat brands) 250
Orange juice (calcium-fortified), 8 ounces 240
Ready-to-eat cereal (calcium-fortified), 1 cup 200
Mozzarella cheese (part-skim), 1 ounce 183
Canned salmon with bones, 3 ounces 181
Collards, 1/2 cup cooked 179
Ricotta cheese (part-skim), 1/4 cup 169
Bread (calcium-fortified), 2 slices 160
Cottage cheese (1 percent fat), 1 cup 138
Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons 138
Navy beans, 1 cup cooked 128
Turnips, 1/2 cup cooked 125
Broccoli, 1 cup cooked 94
From Mayo Clinic Health Oasis

A spokeswoman from the Milk Industry Federation called the new campaign "irresponsible" and an "incorrect reading of the science."

The Physicians Committee, which in the past has promoted a diet free of meat and animal proteins and has for years urged Americans to stop drinking milk, says it hopes to educate people that there are "other excellent sources of calcium."

While most nutrition experts agree that there are sources of calcium other than dairy products, they argue that Americans tend not to consume those foods in large amounts. Those other sources include fortified orange juice, leafy green vegetables, beans and calcium supplements.

"You need to emphasize getting calcium from other sources, but you also need to focus on the exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, those are other factors that have been implicated in that," Chonko said.

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Quick Facts - Calcium

Physicians Committe for Responsible Medicine
Milk - it's on everybody's lips!
Got Milk?
National Dairy Council
Mayo Clinic Health Oasis: Dairy products - do we need them?
Mayo Clinic Health Oasis: Calcium - Here's how to bone up on this essential mineral
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