Are Milk Advertisements That Claim Links Between Milk and Weight Loss Misleading?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in a May 3, 2007 letter, addressed the issue of whether milk advertising campaigns regarding weight loss were "false and misleading" as purported by a lawsuit from the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The letter stated in part:

"We have now been advised by USDA staff that the Dairy Board, the Fluid Milk Board, and other affiliated entities that engage in advertising and promotional activities on behalf of the two boards, have determined that the best course of action at this time is to discontinue all advertising and other marketing activities involving weight loss claims until further research provides stronger, more conclusive evidence of an association between dairy consumption and weight loss...

The FTC staff believes that, in light of these developments, no further Commission action is warranted in response to the PCRM petition with respect to the Fluid Milk Board, the Dairy Board, and parties affiliated with their marketing campaigns."

[Editor's Note: Following the FTC's May 3, 2007 statement, both PCRM and the milk industry (as represented by the National Dairy Council-NDC- and International Dairy Foods Association-IDFA) issued their reactions:

PCRM May 11, 2007 statement: "USDA and Dairy Industry Halt Misleading Weight-Loss Ads After Physicians Group Complains to Federal Trade Commission" (PDF 67KB)
NDC/IDFA May 11, 2007 joint statement: "NDC and IDFA Statement in Response to FTC Comments on Weight Loss Campaigns" (PDF 89KB)

As of at least Sep. 27, 2007, the phrase "Lose weight!" no longer appears on the official milk website that advertised "milk your diet. Lose weight!"]

May 3, 2007 - Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 
FTC letter addressed to Neal D. Barnard, MD, President of PCRM (72 KB)  

PRO (yes)

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) wrote in its "Petition to Prohibit False and Misleading Advertising" to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Apr. 21, 2005:

"PCRM requests the Commission to institute an investigation against the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the National Dairy Council (NDC)...for dissemination of false and misleading advertisements in violation of the FTCA [Federal Trade Commission Act]...

The advertisements linking the consumption of dairy products to weight or fat loss constitute deceptive advertising under federal law...

The weight loss promotion greatly harms consumers by making false and unsupported health claims, distorting the body of science, and omitting material facts about the negative health effects associated with consuming dairy products...

The weight loss promotion advertisements make claims about health designed to engender trust by using celebrity-spokespersons and by claiming to be science-based, claims which are virtually impossible for consumers to evaluate for themselves...

While the advertisements have been effective at conveying their message, the message is unequivocally deceptive, misleading, and dangerous."

Apr. 21, 2005 - Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) 
PCRM Petition to Prohibit False and Misleading Advertising (221KB)  

David Ludwig, MD, PhD, Director of the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program at Children's Hospital Boston, stated in the July 17, 2005 Associated Press article, "Link Between Dairy, Weight Loss Unclear":

"My concern is the advertising claims by the Dairy Council have well outstripped the available data [regarding milk's role in weight loss]."

July 17, 2005 - David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD 

Michael Jacobson, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, commented in his Sep. 2005 article "White Lies?" in the Nutrition Action Health Letter:

"'Milk your diet. Lose weight!' promise ads from the Milk Processors Education Program...

How can the dairy industry get away with making such big claims based on such little evidence?...

I suspect that the dairy-weight-loss ads will be stopped soon...

Otherwise, misleading claims will undermine the public's trust in both the industry's ads and the government that oversees them."

Sep. 2005 - Michael F. Jacobson, PhD 

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Professor of Nutrition at New York University, stated in the May 11, 2007 New York Times article, "Dairy Council to End Ad Campaign That Linked Drinking Milk With Weight Loss," about the weight-loss milk advertisements:

"Those ads were ridiculously misleading."

May 11, 2007 - Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH 

CON (no)

The National Dairy Council (NDC) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), in their May 11, 2007 joint statement, "NDC and IDFA Statement in Response to FTC Comments on Weight Loss Campaigns," available on the National Dairy Council website's News Alert Archives page, stated:

"We stand behind our weight-loss messages and the science supporting those messages. There's a strong body of scientific evidence demonstrating a connection between dairy and adult weight loss. All of our messages and campaign elements are always thoroughly reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees dairy industry-sponsored campaigns."

May 11, 2007 - International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) 
National Dairy Council (NDC) 

Greg Miller, PhD, Executive Vice President of Science and Research of the National Dairy Council, said in the Dec. 1, 2006 International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) press release, "Animal Rights Group's Lawsuit Strategy Attacking Dairy Once Again Falls Flat":

"The dairy/weight loss connection is grounded in sound science and has proven to be another compelling reason for the public to consume the recommended three servings of dairy a day...The industry will continue to leverage this message as part of our comprehensive nutrition education and marketing programs."

Dec. 1, 2006 - Gregory D. Miller, PhD 

Harris Interactive, a market research firm, wrote in its 2007 case study, "'Got Milk?' From Memorable to Motivational":

"MilkPEP and a related dairy marketing organization, Dairy Management Inc, had developed new scientific knowledge about the weight loss and weight management benefits of milk consumption. This new and exciting benefit was the result of more than eight years of academic and scientific research on a wide variety of strategic subjects. These efforts came together in late 2002 to provide sufficient support for a new, credible, and important consumer message which was creatively translated to: Milk Your Diet - Lose Weight."

2007 - Harris Interactive 

The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), in its Apr. 3, 2006 letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) titled "Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents Report to Congress - Comment, Project No. P064504," wrote:

"Advertising claims are carefully developed through a creative process which is supported by thorough scientific and legal review and the guidance of an advisory board composed of doctors and scientists with recognized expertise concerning diet and health matters relating to milk."

Apr. 3, 2006 - Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP)