Based on a survey of the milk diets and physical measurements of 5,034 children aged two to six, University of Toronto researchers found the 643 test subjects who drank cow milk alternatives tended to be shorter than cow milk-drinkers. The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, went so far as to suggest individual doses could reduce a child's stature, with every cup of non-cow milk consumed daily connected directly to a 0.4 centimeter drop in height.
It claimed at age three, children who drank three cups of non-cow milk a day were 1.5 centimeter shorter than those who drank three cups of cow milk per day — and suggested further research might reveal other deleterious connections between non-cow milk consumption and individual health.
While the story likely inspired at least some concerned parents to become committed dairy fans, in structural terms the paper is plagued with shortcomings. For one, while the physical measurements of children surveyed were included in the study, their parents' heights weren't — and the children's overall diets weren't scrutinized, just their milk preferences. Moreover, the study is inherently correlative — as such, it cannot by definition determine causation one way or another. Such a design flaw was fundamental to the 1998 paper authored by disgraced former Dr. Andrew Gilligan that linked autism to the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Minerals like calcium, found in milk, help remineralize and strengthen tooth enamel. pic.twitter.com/mGySbNMvak— John Lohner DDS (@LexHeightDental) June 10, 2017
While children and adults alike all need fat, protein, and vitamin D, the key components of milk, such nutrients are not exclusive to the white nectar. Green vegetables, nuts, beans, and fortified foods are also rich sources of such nutrients, meaning milk is far from an essential dietary provision. Lactose intolerant individuals can receive all the benefits of milk, and more, without cow milk — or its various substitutes — figuring in their diets at all.
However, what's most troubling about the paper is the connection between lead author Jonathon Maguire and the dairy industry. While there are no suggestions this paper was bankrolled directly by the dairy industry, past studies co-authored by Maguire have been industry-funded — and each study offered conclusions favorable to the diary industry. For instance, a 2014 study he co-authored found milk alternatives could lead to vitamin D deficiencies in children, and full fat milk was in fact connected to healthy weight.
In 2011, Maguire and colleagues were awarded a three-year, US$90,000 grant from Dairy Farmers of Canada, an industry lobby group. A study he co-authored in 2015 listed the Dairy Farmers of Ontario as funders. Another study he co-authored in 2016 listed the Dairy Farmers of Canada as funders. In a public presentation, a graduate student of Maguire's listed both industry groups among Maguire's lab funders. Moreover, as recently as 2016, Maguire was a member of Dairy Farmers of Canada Expert Scientific Advisory Committee.
While shocking, many major industries in the West have long-funded scientific research, in search of conclusions that support their commercial objectives. In 2016, it was revealed sugar industry executives paid off a group of Harvard researchers so they would downplay the links between sugar and heart disease in a prominent medical journal. Their bogus research helped draw attention away from the health risks of sweets and shifted the blame solely to fats, and actively encouraged individuals to pursue high-sugar diets, the primary driver of the current obesity epidemic. Moreover, one researcher went on to become the Head of Nutrition at the US Department of Agriculture, where he set dietary guidelines which are still in use as of 2017.
Prior to the industry's bungs, nutrition research had pegged sugar as a primary driver of coronary heart disease, with studies finding evidence low-fat diets high in sugars significantly boosted cholesterol levels. In 1964, John Hickson, Director of Research at the Sugar Research Foundation, proposed the group "embark on a major program" to dispute such data and stifle negative attitudes towards sugar.
In May, it was revealed the European Union's conclusion that a potentially carcinogenic weed-killer was in fact safe, was based on scientific evidence written by manufacturer Monsanto. In a leaked February 2015 email, the firm's Head of Product Safety proposed in-house scientists write a study, and independent academics "just edit and sign their names" to the document without disclosing Monsanto's involvement, an approach he dubbed "ghostwriting." Subsequent emails suggest the firm had previously employed the tactic, saying it was "how we handled Williams Kroes & Munro."
Individuals who avoid milk for dietary reasons, or personal taste, ensure they always read the fine print on food labels — the mainstream media should evidently adopt the same approach to scientific research.