Wetenschap - 29 september 2011

Professor criticizes milk press release

More criticism of a Wageningen UR press release about milk; this time from renowned nutrition researcher Walter Willett. He thinks the report is a 'misrepresentation giving an extremely distorted version' of the results. What is at issue is the claim that milk consumption protects you against cardiovascular diseases. He made his statements in the Volkskrant newspaper earlier this week.

Willet is a co-author of the study the press release is based on and also has an honorary doctorate from Wageningen UR. The study in question is a so-called meta-analysis, in which researchers combine data from a large number of scientific articles to arrive at more reliable conclusions. The results showed that consuming up to three glasses of milk a day protects against cardiovascular diseases. Willett says this is a 'weak, scarcely meaningful relationship' and there is much evidence that contradicts this claim. He often makes public statements criticizing dairy products.
The Wageningen authors of the original article first want to talk to Willett before commenting. 'I am now waiting until his secretary can find a hole in his diary,' says Marianne Geleijnse, associate professor of Human Nutrition. She says the collaboration with Willett's group in Harvard is excellent. 'We are now conducting a scientific debate and we would like to work things out with the individual researchers.'
It is not the first time this particular press release about milk consumption has been criticized. Two weeks ago, the Wakker Dier Foundation took a trial case to the Advertising Code Committee. The direct cause was the headline 'Joris Driepinter was right', referring to an advertising cartoon figure of the 1960s who used to claim that drinking three pints of milk a day was healthy. Saying something like this was turning the university into an advertising agency according to Wakker Dier, as the milk industry was co-funding the research. The complaint to the Advertising Code Committee was supposed to set a precedent for more actions against the alleged influence of the business community. The scientific information department then changed the headline.

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