Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Think About Your Drink - a New Milk Info-Udy

If you haven't heard it yet, you'll hear it soon, the new mantra of milk ads, "Think about your drink". They have a website, a "study", and already ample media attention.

So why did I put the word study in quotations?

Because this report is to studies what infomercials are to commercials. I'll call it an info-udy

The info-udy is called, "What America Drinks: How Beverages Relate to Nutrient Intakes and Body Weight".

The first tip-off that something's up is the fact that this info-udy was not actually published in a medical journal but rather was,

"commissioned by the Milk Processor Education Program. What America Drinks is a component of an education campaign called Think About Your Drink."
The rest of the tip-offs come from the content. How's this line for objective empirical conclusions?
"The results of this study show that beverages make significant contributions to calorie and nutrient intakes of Americans. Milk provided Americans with a substantial portion of essential nutrients, while other types of beverages tended to contribute substantially to calories and added sugar intakes but provided few nutrients other than vitamin C, potassium and some folate"
Looking at their data, depending on the age group, milk actually is the second highest contributor of liquid calories to most diets, but of course, it's not spun that way.

Here's another oddity. The info-udy did something I've never seen before. They took their data, divided folks by age and sex and then subdivided by beverage intake, with two categories. The first category was "High Milk/Low Sweetened Beverage" consumers and the second was, "Low Milk/High Sweetened Beverage Consumers". They then drew conclusions from the body mass indices of these groups and concluded that folks who drank more milk weighed less that folks who drank more sugared beverages. Big problem here - they didn't bother controlling for anything else!

What if the folks who drank more milk did so because they were trying to live what they thought were healthier lifestyles (after all, milk's done a bang up job of marketing itself as a healthy choice)? Perhaps they were more active? Perhaps their dietary choices as a whole were lower in calories? The info-udy tries to suggest that they controlled for calorie intake, but with a dietary recall study, that's pretty much impossible.

Bottom line, when you hear the call to action, "Think About What you Drink", I'd advise you to, "Think About Where you Heard it".

So what's not in the report? How about the fact that higher dairy consumption has been shown to be linked with increased risks of ovarian cancer and increased severity of prostate cancer? How about the fact that higher dairy consumption has not been shown to minimize the risk of osteoperosis?

Oh, and if this type of info-udy and its reporting bothers you, if you feel that there's an obvious lack of objectivity, if you feel that the scientists involve should not be selling their good names for such clearly spun data, it might also bother you to learn that Susan Barr, the scientist who according to the report itself, "provided invaluable input on the design of the study and the analysis of the results" is a member of the 12-member advisory board to the revisions to the Canada's Food Guide - interestingly her official Food Guide bio doesn't mention her ties with Big Milk (she's a member of the medical advisory board for the International Dairy Foods Association)

No, our upcoming Food Guide couldn't possibly be influenced by conflicts of interest (please note the non-veiled sarcasm).

Chalk up another win for the marketing machine that is Big Milk!