Study casts doubt on health benefits of milk

A photograph of milk being poured into a glass. Image copyright Getty Images

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So maybe milk doesn't do a body that much good after all.

According to a study of 107,000 Swedish adults published in the medical journal BMJ, a diet rich in milk could have detrimental health consequences.

"We observed a dose-dependent higher rate of both mortality and fracture in women and a higher rate of mortality in men with milk intake, a pattern not discerned with other dairy products," the authors write in a 22 September report on their findings.

Women who drank three or more glasses of milk a day, for instance, were 93% more likely to have died during the study period, which ranged from 13 to 22 years.

They conclude that the findings "question the validity" of the long-held belief that drinking milk has net health benefits, although they caution that further research is needed.

There's just not a lot of evidence supporting dairy industry claims that drinking milk is good for you, writes Indiana University School of Medicine Prof Aaron E Carroll for the New York Times.

"More than 10,000 years ago, when human beings began to domesticate animals, no adults or older children consumed milk," he writes. "Many people don't drink it today because they are lactose intolerant. They do just fine."

There appears to be scant evidence that calcium in milk helps prevent osteoporosis and improve bone strength. And while milk is full of protein, he continues, most Americans get plenty of the nutrient in their diets already. What they don't need, he says, are calories - which milk has in abundance, to the tune of 83 a cup.

"In an era when every other caloric beverage is being marginalized because of obesity concerns, it's odd that milk continues to get a pass," he writes.

Why? He says politics is part of the reason. The US government spends millions on advertising campaigns for the dairy industry, which wholeheartedly supports the efforts.

Luisa Dillner of the Guardian cautions that it's too early to kick the milk habit, however. She says the study is based on sometimes unreliable self-reporting, Swedish environment and health practices may be different in the UK and other parts of the world, and there's no concrete proof of a link.

There are also the unintended health consequences of abandoning milk. For instance, as Sandra Walsh of the Daily Mail writes, the recent decline in UK milk consumption likely has led to an uptick in cases of iodine deficiency, since many Brits get the vital substance from cow's milk. Unlike the US and Canada, the British government does not mandate adding iodine to salt products.

"Nutritional guidelines are unlikely to change in the short term until there is more direct evidence on the long-term effects of liberal milk drinking," Dillner writes. "The phrase 'more research is needed' was invented for questions such as this."

Mexico

Another student massacre - The recent kidnapping and possible murder of 43 student activists in the Mexican state of Guerrero is just the latest in Mexico's "lamentable history of violence", writes Reinaldo Spitalletta for El Spectador (translated by WorldCrunch).

He draws a parallel between the recent violence and the 1968 murder of protesting students by government-backed militants in Mexico City. An event that inspired a generation of activist leaders who are now "clamouring for justice".

"Thanks to government henchmen and drug gangs, the children of the 1911 revolution, the descendents of Moctezuma, Malinche and Cortes are today spattered in blood," he writes. "Is Mexico in ruins?"

North Korea

Time to confront the human rights issue - Pyongyang refused to co-operate with the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights, which looked into allegations of abuses in the secretive nation. Commission head Michael Kirby says that his team was able to gather plenty of information through unofficial sources, however.

"The presentation of the COI report to the United Nations created a sensation," he writes for CNN. "No report of a COI of the HRC had been so effective, I believe, in drawing attention to victims and to such a broad range of wrongs perpetrated against the civilian population of a member state of the United Nations to such a shocking degree over such a long period of time."

Now the UN Security Council must act on the evidence presented in the report, he says, either by passing resolutions or referring the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Japan

Nationwide shopping spree offers escape from recession - Imagine a government giving every citizen a credit card with $8,000 (£5,100) to spend. And imagine another the next year and the year after. That's the suggestion of Gabriel Stein, the director of asset management services at Oxford Economics in London.

This, writes for Bloomberg View's William Pesek, might pull Japan out of its sixth recession in the past two decades. It would give money to the people, not banks.

Instead of pursuing policies like these, Pesek writes, the Bank of Japan increased bond purchases to about $700b (£450b) annually, which is no good if "banks refuse to lend, and households and businesses don't borrow".

Nigeria

Saving the nation before it disappears - The government of Nigeria has done very little to stop Boko Haram, a militant group that has taken over three northern states in the last two years, according to the Guardian's editors. The situation in the north is nothing short of war, they write, but some politicians oppose taking action and are playing politics for their own benefit at the expense of the lives of Nigerians.

"While Boko Haram has since changed tactics from being a hit-and-run terrorist gang to a conquering army," they say, "the federal government is yet to change its own strategy."

While most people in the north don't support Boko Haram, the editors write, "they need to be liberated from the group's clutches. Politicians should realise that unless and until Boko Haram is effectively checked, there may be no country to govern by 2015".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Pakistan media react to Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif's visit to the US Central Command (Centcom) in Tampa, Florida, on Monday.

"Going by the track record of our cooperation with the US, especially in the war on terror, do we really believe we will be taken at our word? … As long as we are sheltering Mullah Omar and his like in Pakistan, trust will be a hard sell in the US." - Editorial in the Daily Times.

"Pakistan needs its image rehabilitated right now, more than it needs guns and criticism from the US... Mullah Omar, Haqqani and company remain safe in Pakistan. These 'strategic assets' have not yet paid dividends, and never will." - Editorial in the Nation.

"This is a golden opportunity for the US to understand Pakistan's special position. It should look into the defence requirements of its old ally ... so that peace and stability can be established in the region." - Editorial in Nawa-i-Waqt.‎

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at) bbc.co.uk.

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