Thursday, November 24, 2011

Brian Wansink contributes to milk's undeserved weight Health Halo

First up, let me tell you that I absolutely adore Brain Wansink's research. I think his work is important, and cool to boot. I also think he's a phenomenal speaker and a true force for good in understanding our current food environment.

Which is why I'm so perplexed by Brian's involvement with the "Got Milk" campaign.

Milk isn't magical. It's a liquid protein source with calcium, and while there may be fair debate out there to be had regarding various benefits and risks to milk, certainly to date, the data on milk and weight, excluding the data from the researcher who has a patent on milk being beneficial to weight claims, are far from conclusive and are rather spectacularly unimpressive.

How unimpressive? Here's the USDA's Nutrition Evidence Library on the evidence based relationship between milk and weight,
"Strong evidence demonstrates that intake of milk and milk products provide no unique role in weight control."
Now back to Brian.

Brian's brilliant work on Health Halos details the impact that perceptions of healthfulness through marketing have on consumption patterns, whereby when people believe something's healthful, they're liable to consume more of it than perhaps is nutritionally deserved, which in turn might be helping to fuel problems like obesity.

In his Milk Moustache ad, Brian perpetuates the notion that somehow drinking milk will help with weight management,
"When I'm looking to quench my thirst without increasing my girth, I reach for a tall cool glass of low-fat milk."
And here I'm at a loss, as not only am I certain Brian more than anyone understands the impact of marketing and Health Halos, I'm also confident he's familiar with the evidence base on milk and weight.

If you want to quench your thirst without increasing your girth, drink calorie-free water, and if you choose to drink milk, please don't for one moment think that doing so is somehow going to magically exclude milk's calories from your daily totals or in some other way help you lose weight, because regardless of what one of my personal heroes might be telling you with his Health Halo'd ad, it won't.

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  1. It's very interesting that the Milk folks thought to use Brian at all. Maybe we can see that as a positive sign that they are paying attention to thinkers in this space.

    I'm curious why he'd do this too. I'm fascinated by people's choices when it comes to giving their brand to unscrupulous people in the food world.

    Isn't it these same folks who are trying to sell chocolate milk on everyone as a heathy option?

  2. Hi Jodi,

    The milk folks did a whole slew of folks over at Cornell, with Brian being one of many. I suspect that its play will be limited to campus.

    Regarding branding, I of course couldn't agree with you more. That being said, I wouldn't be at all surprise if somewhere down the line I too make a few branding mis-steps...though I hope none as mind boggling as Brian's here.

  3. What we believe does not pay bills. Prostitution generates revenue. Follow the money.

  4. Joyce Slater10:35 am

    Wow - I too would not have expected this. I use Brian's research when teaching my third year nutrition education class and love his stuff. Maybe we're all subject to flattery and the pull of celebrity...

    On another note... I'll bet they didn't put Cornell researcher Colin Campbell in a moustache!

  5. Anonymous12:09 pm

    Why are you surprised? Everybody has a price...

  6. This makes me wonder how many health care professionals give advice contrary to what they truly believe, or even do in their daily lives.

    Nobody's perfect, I guess!

  7. Anonymous6:33 am

    Um.. Milk is good for you? Does anyone here dispute that? Okay, good. It's very cheap, very accessible, and has lots of important ingredients, especially for younger and older folks. The whole idea behind milk helping you keep your weight in check is that its protein fills you up and stops you from consuming more empty calories later on. Not to mention supporting dairy products is great for U.S. agriculture, so its pretty shocking that a former USDA head is supporting milk. The "A" stands for agriculture, by the way.