Coca-Cola's Project Mother Initiative to Develop Cow's Milk Products Targeting Children
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
February 28, 2001
Trey Paris, Manager
P.O. Box 1734
Atlanta, GA 30301
via facsimile: 404-515-6428
Dear Mr. Paris:
I am writing to express the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's (PCRM) deep concern over the Coca-Cola Company's proposed initiative, titled "Project Mother," to develop and market a line of cow's milk products targeting children. PCRM is a public interest health advocacy organization supported by more than 5,000 physicians and 100,000 laypersons. One of PCRM's primary missions is to educate others about the use of diet as a means of preventive medicine.
Cow's milk is not a healthy food, and efforts aimed at encouraging children to consume more of this harmful product are definitely not in the best interests of America's youth. The title of the initiative shows exactly why this idea should never come to fruition: the implied presumption that cow's milk is nutritionally similar to and as beneficial as mother's milk is dangerously incorrect. Breast milk is made up of just the right amount of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and fat that a human infant needs. Yet, the same is not the case when considering human consumption of cow's milk. There are major differences in the amount of all the nutritional components. For instance, one cup of human milk has 70 percent less protein, 38 percent more fat, and 47 percent more carbohydrates than cow's milk. There are also significant contrasts when comparing all other components of human versus cow's milk, including levels of vitamin C, folic acid, sodium, iron, and calcium. These differences are significant in how they affect human health.
Further, there is a reason children are weaned from their mothers usually by age three—they no longer need milk as a food source. And they definitely do not need, nor should they consume, cow's milk. Both clinical and epidemiological evidence shows the significant harmful effects caused by the consumption of cow's milk before and after weaning and into adulthood. In children, cow's milk consumption has been linked to anemia, colic, allergies, asthma, and juvenile-onset diabetes. In adults, cow's milk consumption is related to heart disease, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.
Cow's milk proteins can cause the human body to produce antibodies, which are believed to damage the pancreas, leading to the development of type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes. Clinical studies have borne this out, as have epidemiological studies of various countries, which show a strong correlation between the use of dairy products and the incidence of insulin-dependent diabetes.
The milk sugar lactose and its breakdown product galactose have been linked to increased risk of ovarian cancer. Further, recent research on diet and cancer focuses on a protein in the bloodstream called insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I). In particular, IGF-I plays a role in cell growth, among other functions, and test-tube experiments show that IGF-I encourages cancer cell growth. Although a certain amount of IGF-I in the blood is normal, high levels are linked to increased cancer risk. Studies have shown that persons who consume dairy products have higher levels of IGF-1. Further, apparently due at least in part to these higher IGF-I levels, consumption of dairy products has been linked to breast cancer.
Moreover, according to a review published by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, at least 11 human population studies have linked dairy product consumption and prostate cancer. Recently, a nested case-control study within the Physicians' Health Study using prospectively collected serum samples from 152 prostate cancer cases and an equal number of controls found that serum IGF-I concentrations were strongly associated with prostate cancer risk. Also, due in part to the amount and type of fat contained in dairy products, their consumption is linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer,
However, the most important issue—simply because it is the most common reason given to support drinking cow's milk—is bone health or, in other words, the prevention of osteoporosis. While it is true that calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, scientific evidence does not support the claim that cow's milk consumption as a source of calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Epidemiological research shows that countries with the highest incidence of osteoporosis, including the U.S., Sweden, and Finland, also have the highest dairy consumption rates.
The Harvard Nurses' Health Study, a 12-year prospective study controlled for age, menopausal status, hormone use, smoking, exercise, and other factors, which followed 77,761 women aged 34 to 59 years old, found that increased consumption of dairy calcium provided no protection against fracture when compared with lower dairy or calcium intakes. In fact, increased intake of dairy calcium was actually associated with a slightly, but significantly, higher fracture risk, and those with the highest intake of dairy calcium had nearly double the hip fracture risk of those with the lowest intake.
Further, adequate calcium balance, not calcium intake, is the key to reducing the risk of osteoporosis. As such, many other considerations are as important, if not more so, than calcium intake, including sodium intake, physical activity, animal protein intake (which leaches calcium from the bones), an overall healthy diet, smoking, gender, race, age, vitamin D status, and calcium absorption rates of food. For example, a recent study of young women published in the journal Pediatrics found that bone density was significantly affected by the amount of physical activity they got in their teen years while increased calcium intake made no difference. This study is consistent with previous studies.
Of particular interest concerning the claimed link between cow's milk and osteoporosis is the fact that the Swiss Federal Health Ministry recently filed suit to stop a series of milk advertisements which claim that milk prevents osteoporosis because they are false and misleading. This case is still pending.
Another health-related issue is lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is the natural reduction after weaning of the enzyme lactase needed to digest the milk sugar lactose, which is present in both human and cow's milk. Seventy percent of African Americans, 73 percent of Native Americans, 95 percent of Asian Americans, and 53 percent of Hispanic Americans are lactose intolerant. Yet, only 15 percent of Caucasians are lactose intolerant. Consequently, a significant number of Americans are likely to experience the signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance—gastrointestinal distress including abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea—after the consumption of milk.
As we all know, Coke is one of the most well-marketed products around the globe. As such, Coca-Cola has an incredible impact on beverage choices. The development of a new line of truly healthy beverages—which, by definition, would not include cow's milk—could go a long way in promoting the good health of consumers and the financial health of your company.
I hope this information is helpful for you in determining whether to reshape the Project Mother initiative. As it is likely the dairy industry will attempt to challenge much of what we say, I strongly urge you to look into these matters further. Also, if possible, I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you personally. I can be reached at 202-686-2210.
Neal Barnard, M.D.
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.