For now, stick with low- or nonfat dairy

478289497I tend to drink 1 percent or fat-free milk, but recently I’ve heard that full-fat dairy might help with weight loss. Should I switch?

There’s some interesting science going on these days regarding dairy fat. For example, a review of 16 studies, published last year in the European Journal of Nutrition, supported the view that high-fat dairy foods don’t contribute to obesity. And it’s not hard to find other research with similar findings.

Despite results from these studies, most nutrition professionals believe the verdict is still out on whether or not dairy fat can help you manage your weight. Until the science is settled, they recommend sticking to the advice offered in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: “Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.”

Why? It all goes back to saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fats tend to raise the low-density lipoproteins, or “bad” cholesterol, in your blood, and that increases the risk for coronary heart disease. Whole milk, many types of cheese and other full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat.

Calories also count: A cup of whole milk has 145 calories, while a cup of fat-free milk has just 90 calories. An ounce of regular cheddar cheese has 115 calories, while an ounce of cheddar cheese made from 2 percent milk has just 80 calories. Just look at Nutrition Facts labels and it’s clear that choosing low-fat or nonfat dairy can help keep you from consuming more calories than you need.

Why eat dairy at all? Nutrition experts say it’s a nutrient-packed food — an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin. Dairy foods also contain protein, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A and B12.

Health benefits linked to dairy products include better bone health, which could reduce the risk of osteoporosis, as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Dairy consumption may also improve blood pressure, especially because of the potassium in milk and yogurt.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 cups of milk a day, or the equivalent of other dairy products, for everyone 9 years and older. A “cup” of dairy includes:

  • 8 ounces of yogurt.
  • 1.5 ounces of hard cheese.
  • 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese.
  • 2 cups of cottage cheese.

For more information about including dairy foods in your diet, see

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, assistant professor and community nutrition education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Data on obesity rates questioned

177329303 (1)I’ve read the news that the obesity rate among preschoolers has dropped, but that some are skeptical. What’s the issue?

It sounds like you’re referring to data published Feb. 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012” reported that obesity rates for children ages 2 through 5 had dropped 43 percent in the last decade. At least, that’s what most of the headlines focused on.

You can’t really blame the media for the excitement: They were just reporting what the experts were saying about the study. But there is more to the findings and reason to be wary.

The data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NHANES collects information from thousands of ordinary Americans and reports results every two years.

When researchers looked specifically at the data about 2- to 5-year-olds, they saw that obesity rates had declined from 13.9 percent in 2003-04 to 8.4 percent in 2011-12. While that’s a good sign, you’re right: Some are cautious about this finding.

One reason is that the decline hasn’t been a steady one. In 2003-04, the obesity rate for children 2 through 5 was 13.9 percent. It dropped to 10.7 percent in 2005-06 and again slightly to 10.1 percent in 2007-08. But it rose rather significantly in 2009-10 to 12.1 percent, before the latest decline to 8.4 percent. Before declaring victory, some experts would like a few more years of data to see if the good news can be verified.

Another reason for concern is that the obesity rate for children of all ages (2 through 19) remained high at 17.7 percent, as did the rate for adults, 34.9 percent. Those figures did not show a decrease between 2003-04 and 2011-12.

Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear how important it is to focus on a healthy weight in young children. Another recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine Jan. 30, reported that children who are overweight at age 5 may face four times the risk of becoming obese at age 14. It appears that preventing obesity from taking a foothold in the early years would be more helpful than encouraging older children — or adults — to lose weight later.

Experts caution that for young children, the emphasis should be on eating healthfully and increasing activity rather than shedding pounds. For guidance, see the CDC’s “Tips for Parents: Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight” at

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Debate continues over ‘disease’ label

177320267I’m not sure what to make of the fact that so many people are now calling obesity a “disease.” What’s the point? Isn’t it a cop-out?

When the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease last June, the move was controversial.

But the idea behind classifying obesity as a disease rather than a “disorder” or “condition” has some merit: Health officials hoped it would encourage doctors to take more ownership in helping patients with weight-loss efforts and encourage more discussion about weight.

Still, in adopting the measure, the AMA essentially declared one-third of Americans as “sick” simply because of their weight, even if they don’t have any health problems. For that and other reasons, some health authorities continue to dispute the label.

Recently, new research has entered  the fray. The study, published online in January inPsychological Science, involved more than 700 people. Researchers found that participants who read an article labeling obesity as a disease tended to have a higher body image and reduced stigma about obesity. On the other hand, they also seemed less concerned about weight and saw eating healthfully as less important.

Experts are split on whether people have total control over their weight. Some point to evidence that hormones and other factors play a significant role in a person’s appetite and weight — circumstances that go beyond eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. In addition, people wrestling with obesity often struggle with self-esteem issues, which present another roadblock in the battle of the bulge. Previous research has shown that having a healthy body image is extremely important to overall well-being and is associated with other health factors, including increased physical activity and reduced stress.

The bottom line? Maybe it’s not important whether obesity is a disease or not. If you’re battling a weight problem, it could be more advantageous to focus on overcoming any discomfort with the issue and having an upfront, honest discussion about your weight with your doctor or other health professional.

But don’t stop there. Self-esteem, stress reduction, physical activity and healthy eating all contribute greatly to overall health and well-being, and they’re all things you can make small but sustainable progress in. It’s important to also talk about these things with your doctor, as well as any medical or counseling options that may be helpful.

Public policies can help fight obesity

159171619I’ve always thought that maintaining a healthy weight is a personal responsibility, but I hear some people talk about what the public should do about the issue. How can that make a difference? 

You might be surprised. Researchers have learned that people’s health behaviors are often influenced at multiple levels, so it makes sense to use multiple strategies to combat the nation’s weight problem.

The idea is this: It is not enough for people to know they should eat nutritious foods or become more physically active if the social or physical environment that surrounds them doesn’t support that knowledge. For example, requiring school lunches to include more fruits and vegetables is the type of public policy that is aimed at improving the environment to help kids make healthier choices.

It’s an important concern. Today, about one-third of the U.S. population is classified as obese and another one-third is overweight. That has implications not only for an individual’s health and well-being, but for public health costs due to the related increased risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers resources on what local governments, schools, communities and other groups can do to help prevent obesity on its website at Ideas of what can be done to encourage more physical activity, for example, include:

  • Community-wide campaigns encouraging physical activity. Research indicates such campaigns result in an average of about a 4 percent increase in the percentage of people engaging in physical activity. Even more people increase the amount of physical activity they already do during such campaigns.
  • Point-of-decision prompts to use the stairs, including motivational signs and making physical improvements to stairwells to make the experience more pleasant. Such efforts result in an average increase of 50 percent more people choosing the stairs over the elevator.
  • Creating or enhancing access to places for physical activity. It shouldn’t be surprising that people who live in neighborhoods without sidewalks or walking paths, bike paths, or easy access to a fitness center spend less time in physical activity. While community-wide solutions like these can be challenging to implement, they can provide long-lasting benefits once in place.