- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Washington health group yesterday sued the dairy industry to stop its national advertising campaigns that promise weight loss with increased dairy consumption.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group with 5,000 doctors in its 100,000-person membership, filed two lawsuits, a class-action and a personal injury suit, in the Circuit Court of Alexandria.

The group, which has supported obesity-related lawsuits in the past, said in court documents that several dairy associations and food companies deceived consumers with unsubstantiated scientific claims in its national campaigns, which include “3-a-Day of Dairy” and “24/24 Milk Your Diet.”

The group advocates a plant-based vegetarian lifestyle, known as vegan.

The campaigns, which were based on six clinical and 21 observational studies, have cost the dairy industry about $200 million since they were introduced in 2003.

The campaigns say consumers can lose more weight by having 24 ounces, or three servings, of dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, daily with a reduced-calorie diet.

“The dairy industry is relying on suspect science” to support the weight-loss claims, said Mindy Kursban, the group’s executive director and general counsel, at a press conference in the District yesterday.

The International Dairy Foods Association, a Washington trade group, and Dairy Management Inc., a Rosemont, Ill., umbrella organization for the National Dairy Council and the American Dairy Association, responded that the ads are backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and extensive scientific research.

“This is not a ‘dairy diet;’ it’s a recommendation that people shouldn’t cut out milk and dairy products when they’re trying to lose weight,” the groups, both defendants in the lawsuits, said yesterday.

The organizations intend to continuing running the ads, said Susan Ruland, spokeswoman for the International Dairy Foods Association.

Kraft Foods Inc., one of the food manufacturers listed as a defendant in one suit, also said it had not received any court documents. The company currently is not running any ads associated with the dairy weight-loss program, said spokeswoman Alyssa Burns.

General Mills Inc., the Minneapolis cereal and food company that also was listed as a defendant, planned to “defend itself vigorously in this matter,” said spokeswoman Marybeth Thorsgaard.

In addition to seeking a court order to stop the dairy campaigns, Arlington resident Catherine Holmes is suing for the weight she said she gained while trying the three-servings advice from November to April.

Ms.Holmes, a 46-year-old project manager for an undisclosed government contractor, said she added about 4 pounds onto her 5-foot-5 frame by following the campaign’s dietary advice.

She “significantly” added dairy products, like yogurt and milk, to her diet while cutting out meat and limiting her intake of peas, brown rice, lentils and other carbohydrates, the court papers said.

Ms. Holmes would not say whether she changed her caloric intake or exercise level.

Even though she has been a member of the physicians group for two years, Ms. Holmes said she believed the dairy diet could help her lose two dress sizes.

“I really want those ads to get yanked,” Ms. Holmes said, adding she is seeking $236 in reimbursement for the dairy products she bought during the diet period.


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