Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Urges Sen. Booker’s Nutrition Hearing to Address Rising Obesity Rates With Plant-Based Diet

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Nutrition specialists with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit of more than 17,000 doctors, contributed a statement for the record for today’s United States Senate Agriculture Committee hearing entitled “The State of Nutrition in America 2021.” In its statement, the Physicians Committee urges Congress to explore the growing evidence of meat and dairy’s links to chronic disease and the many benefits of a plant-based diet.

The Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research is holding this hearing to examine the state of nutrition in this country and to explore the many disparities related to food policy. Subcommittee Chair Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Mike Braun (R-IN) recently introduced a bill to convene a new White House conference on food, nutrition, hunger, and health.

“Foremost in Congress’s minds should be rising rates of obesity in the United States, especially among people of color, and that nutrition policy in this country still does not warn against the risks of consuming processed meat or dairy, or the benefits of a plant-based diet,” says Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, adjunct professor of medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and president of the Physicians Committee. “Additionally, more evidence shows that a plant-based diet may help prevent severe COVID-19.”

In 2015, after 22 experts from 10 countries assessed more than 800 epidemiological studies, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified consumption of processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1) on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.”

Research shows that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily also increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and overall cancer mortality. Studies show that processed meat also increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Other studies have linked it to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Red meat also increases the risk of heart diseasediabetes, and certain cancers.

Dairy products are a leading source of saturated fat in the American diet. Scientific evidence also shows that milk and other dairy products increase the risk of asthmabreastovarian, and prostate cancers, cognitive decline, and early death, and offer little if any protection for bone health.
Dairy products also cause bloating, diarrhea, and gas in the tens of millions of Americans who have lactose intolerance, the natural progression of not breaking down sugar in milk.

The National Institutes of Health estimates approximately 95% of Asians, 60% to 80% of African Americans, 80% to 100% of American Indians, and 50% to 80% of Hispanics are lactose intolerant. Though once considered a disease, lactose intolerance is actually the norm for most humans; after infancy, most people not of European descent—about 70% of the world’s population—become physically uncomfortable after consuming dairy.

“A plant-based diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, is a great way to achieve good health,” Dr. Barnard says. “These foods are full of fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals, free of cholesterol, and low in calories and saturated fat. Eating a variety of these foods provides all the protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients your body needs.”
Those who eat a plant-based diet lower their risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions:

“Congress should have a frank and honest debate about what’s on Americans’ dinner plates and should highlight the links that meat and dairy—foods heavily subsidized by the federal government—have to chronic disease,” Dr. Barnard adds. “The Physicians Committee looks forward to continue to engage with federal policymakers on the benefits of a plant-based diet.”

Doctors say hospitals’ contracts with fast food harm patients’ health

Contracts obtained by the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit of 12,000 doctors—show that McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are compelling public hospitals to promote unhealthful food to patients, visitors, and staff. Grady Hospital in Atlanta has a “percentage rent” agreement with McDonald’s, meaning the more artery-clogging burgers and shakes sold to patients, the more money the hospital makes.

The Chick-fil-A contract with Greenville Memorial Hospital in South Carolina asks the hospital to “make every reasonable effort to increase the sales and business and maximize the Gross Receipts.” This means the hospital is promoting fried chicken and other foods tied to serious chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

Through public records requests, the Physicians Committee obtained five hospital fast food- contracts, and it has also acquired patient menus from six hospitals. Details are provided in a new report, “The Six Worst Public Hospital Food Environments.” Some public hospitals—including   Broward General Medical Center—failed to provide documents as required by law.

“Pushing fast-food burgers and greasy chicken sandwiches at the hospital can turn visitors and staff into patients, while undermining patients’ efforts to heal,” says Cameron Wells, M.P.H., R.D.“ Public hospitals should do all they can to end contracts that force them to promote unhealthful foods from McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A.”

Here is an overview of the six worst public hospital food environments:

Hospital Fast Food Outlets Fast Food Contract Shocker Patient Food Score
Greenville Memorial Hospital in Greeneville, S.C. Three fast-food outlets including Chick-fil-A Chick-fil-A/Hospital encouraged to “make every reasonable effort to increase the sales.” 62% D
John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas McDonald’s Receipt pending Based on Order from Office of the Attorney General of Texas. 67% D
Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. McDonald’s McDonald’s/Hospital makes more money when McDonald’s makes more money. 69% D+
Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y. Three fast-food outlets including Tim Hortons Tim Hortons/Hospital tenants should “focus on healthcare related enterprises.” 72% C
Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston, Texas McDonald’s McDonald’s/ McDonald’s permitted to terminate its lease if yearly gross sales do not reach $1 million. 73% C
Georgia Regents Medical Center/Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, Ga. McDonald’s in the Children’s Medical Center McDonald’s/ McDonald’s may provide to patients, including “McDelivery,” Happy Meals, birthday parties. 76% C

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Cow milk industry challenged on their “Get Real” marketing campaign


Sometimes a cliché says it best: There’s no use crying over spilled milk. But that’s just what the milk industry plans on doing with its new “Get Real” campaign that launches this past Tuesday.

Science long ago proved that dairy milk is not only just damaging to human health; it’s deadly. So people stopped drinking it in droves in favor of plant-based milks. But the National Dairy Council and Dairy Management Inc. are teaming up to shamelessly try and convince us to keep drinking the harmful stuff. It’s too late. Milk sales continue to sharply decline for good reason.

There’s no refuting the growing and well-established body of evidence showing milk’s dangers. In October, Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., wrote about a study in the British Medical Journal —that the “Get Real” campaign is desperately trying dispel—that followed 61,433 women and 45,339 men for more than 20 years and 11 years, respectively, and found that high cow’s milk intake is associated with increased risk for bone fractures and death.

Milk holds many other dangers, too. Milk and other dairy products are the top sources of saturated fat in the American diet and exacerbate America’s No. 1 killer: heart disease. Milk also increases the risk of prostate, ovarian, and other cancers. And it causes cramping, diarrhea, and bloating for the 65 percent of the population who are lactose intolerant. Skim and nonfat milks get most of their calories come from sugar—lactose—which is why one cup of skim milk has more sugar than a serving of Lucky Charms.

If you feel like you’ve heard this before, there’s a good reason. You have. Studies regularly show that milk is menacing. And the milk industry keeps trying to cover up those facts by spreading misleading information about the nonexistent health benefits of milk. So we keep debunking them.

The Physicians Committee has a long history (see our timeline below) of refuting the milk industry’s false claims. And its “Get Real” campaign will be no exception.

A Brief History of Milk Promotion

  • 1970: The United Dairy Industry Association is formed.
  • 1983: Congress enacts the Dairy and Tobacco Adjustment Act and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board is created. The USDA approves the checkoff program.
  • 1992: Distinguished pediatrician Benjamin Spock, M.D., joins the Physicians Committee’s call for parental warnings about the link between dairy products and type 1 diabetes.
  • 1995: Dairy Management Inc. is created to increase demand for U.S.-produced dairy products on behalf of America’s dairy product producers. Checkoff dollars help fund the organization.
  • March 1995: Two months after the dairy product industry’s introduction of its “milk mustache” advertising campaign, the Physicians Committee files a petition with the FTC requesting an investigation into health claims made in the ads.
  • 1998: Dairy Management Inc. and the Milk Processor Education Program launch a national program to market milk.
  • April 1999: The Physicians Committee files a second petition with the FTC requesting an investigation into health claims made by “milk mustache” ads.
  • July 2000: The Physicians Committee files a third petition with the FTC requesting an investigation into health claims made by “milk mustache” ads.
  • March 2001: The Physicians Committee files a petition with the FTC requesting an investigation into misleading ads about dairy products’ effect on hypertension.
  • September 2001: A USDA panel backs the Physicians Committee’s complaint that the dairy product industry’s “milk mustache” and “Got milk?” campaigns have no scientific basis for suggesting that milk consumption improves sports performance. The panel recommends that ads promoting whole milk should indicate that it increases the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease.
  • October 2002: The Physicians Committee petitions the USDA to require nondairy alternatives to milk in the National School Lunch Program.
  • March 2005: Physicians Committee experts publish a review in Pediatrics showing there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that milk drinking helps children grow strong bones.
  • April 2005: The Physicians Committee petitions the FTC to put an immediate stop to a false and misleading multimillion-dollar dairy product industry campaign that suggests milk causes weight loss.
  • June 2005: The Physicians Committee sues milk companies and dairy product trade associations for their false and misleading weight-loss advertising campaign.
  • May 2007: In response to an FTC petition filed by the Physicians Committee, national dairy product advertising campaigns overseen by the USDA stop claiming that dairy products cause weight loss.
  • November 2009: The Physicians Committee calls for an end to the dairy product industry’s “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk” campaign aimed at keeping chocolate milk in America’s school lunch lines.
  • May 2012: A Physicians Committee survey finds that only 7 percent of individuals in households with children ages 13 to 17 know that skim milk and Coca-Cola have about the same number of calories.
  • July 2012: The Physicians Committee petitions the USDA to remove milk as a required food from the school lunch program, because it does not promote bone health and is the biggest source of saturated fat in the American diet.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

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