The curious case of a federal agency battling saturated fat consumption while also selling cheese

This story made me say, I’m sure I’m not stupid. But I’m confused now because you, Uncle Sam, are telling me two very different things. WHAT do you want me to do? Besides blog about you and complain, as more people should do about this …

In “While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales,” the New York Times reported how the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that saturated fat contributes to obesity and heart disease.

But that agency also sells cheeseYes! A Domino’s Pizza campaign associated with this federal agency increased sales of pizzas with six cheeses on the top and two more cheeses in the crust. With this much saturated fat:

According to the NYTimes, a group called Dairy Management affiliated with the Department of Agriculture has a $140 million annual budget to get more cheese on restaurant menus. It has over 160 employees with skills in product development and marketing. Dairy Management helped Domino’s create new pizzas with 40% more cheese and created and paid for a $12 million marketing campaign to sell the Domino’s pizzas. Excuse me, but I thought marketing Domino’s pizza was Domino’s job not the government’s job? At any rate the government did a good job with this — “sales soared by double digits.”

So which — telling or selling — is more effective at influencing behavior? Well … the marketing initiatives of Dairy Management successfully increased cheese sales, and cheese is now the largest source of saturated fat in our diets. Dairy Management had a hand in Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites Pizza, Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich both of which featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and cheesy sauce. This all helped cheese sales grow by 30 million pounds. Dairy Management is also behind the “Got Milk?” campaign which is slowing the decline in milk consumption among children. Granted, the calcium and vitamins can have beneficial effects for children, but this marketing prowess is also used to sell more dairy products to Americans than our health needs.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture distributes brochures like this with nutrition tips. Have you ever seen this brochure? But we’ve all heard of “Got Milk?” and we’re all seeing pizzas with cheese tucked inside the crust in addition to the mounds of cheese on top. If there was anywhere else to squeeze cheese on a pizza, they’d put it there too.

And this in the New York Times story is worrisome:

In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.

“Great news for dieters,” Dairy Management said in an advertisement in People magazine in 2005. “Clinical studies show that people on a reduced-calorie diet who consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day can lose significantly more weight and more body fat than those who just cut calories.”

Um, those of you familiar with Weight Watchers — the only weight loss program proven by strong research studies to effectively change long-term behavior affecting weight — know that recommendation doesn’t work with the WW point system unless you’re willing to be very very hungry.

And consider this:

Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health and a former member of the federal government’s nutrition advisory committee, said: “… A small amount of good-flavored cheese can be compatible with a healthy diet, but consumption in the U.S. is enormous and way beyond what is optimally healthy.”

Does our country’s obesity problem really need help to keep it growing? See it grow here:

Now I don’t have a personal problem with eating cheese. We once went to Madison, Wisconsin just to stock up at Fromagination. If you got between me and the last piece of chevre on earth, I would beat you up to get it. I wouldn’t care how big you are. It’s chevre! (OK maybe I do have a personal problem with cheese but it’s certainly not against cheese)

I have a problem with government institutions influencing behavior that adversely affects public health. We already have plenty in the private sector who have enough motivation and means to do that on their own.

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  1. #1 by Deb Trombley on November 18, 2010 - 9:14 pm

    Phil, thank you for your follow-up. The NYT article did clearly say, as you mention here, that the funding is not from taxpayers. Apologies for not making that part clearer. I am ensuring all the links you provided are posted here for people’s information, to understand the relationship between Dairy Management and USDA. Deb

  2. #2 by Domino's Pizza on November 18, 2010 - 10:54 am

    Phil from Domino’s here. 100% of any dollars Domino’s received came from America’s Dairy Farmers through our partnership with Dairy Management, Inc. — not the U.S. government or taxpayer money. U.S. Dairy Farmers use their money and resources to partner with us in promoting cheese…an initiative we have in common within this partnership – one that we are very proud of.

    Further, DMI has issued a release setting the record straight on its relationship to the USDA, and how the majority of the reports – including the NY Times — have completely misreported the facts. Read it here.

    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dairy-management-inc-and-americas-dairy-farmers-set-the-record-straight-107951839.html

    The Atlantic recently further exposed some of the misinformation here:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/11/how-journalists-got-the-cheese-lobbying-story-wrong/66663/

    For further reading, check out:

    http://www.sogoodblog.com/2010/11/09/cheese-usda-dominos-pizza/

    http://www.dailyyonder.com/new-food-demon-big-cheese/2010/11/09/3031

    http://www.yearofplenty.org/2010/11/newsflash-dairy-industry-wants-you-to-eat-more-dairy-whats-so-controversial-about-that.html

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