Introduction

The foods we consume are of immense importance to our health and well-being. The recent increase in television and media coverage of food and health issues has improved our understanding of the links that exist between diet and health. The types of food that we eat are strongly linked to our culture and food issues can cause emotional responses. In the UK and other northern European countries as well as North America, we have developed a strong emotional attachment to the idea that milk is a natural and healthy drink for us, even as adults.

Milk is the first food that we consume, our mother’s breast milk if we are fortunate, if not then specially formulated substitutes based on cow’s or soya milk are generally used in the UK. We associate milk with comfort and nurturing and consider milk to be a wholesome nutrient-rich component of the diet that is essential for normal growth and development, which for a baby it is. However, all other mammals on the planet are weaned off milk at an early age, whereas some humans continue drinking milk into adulthood. Not only that, we drink the milk of another species, something no other mammal does. To be fair, contrary to popular belief, most people in the world do not drink milk; it would make many of us ill. But in the UK, we are a nation of milk drinkers, along with most other northern European countries and North America. Infants, the young, adolescents, adults and the aged all consume large quantities of milk, cheese, butter and yogurt every year. But why are we so convinced that milk is some kind of wonder food?

Milk, it seems, can help you lose weight; it can also make you gain weight. Milk promotes healthy skin; it may also cause acne. You need milk for good bone health, but the incidence of osteoporosis is highest in countries that consume the most milk. These conflicting reports leave us confused and unsure who to believe. The dairy industry invests millions in milk advertising and promotion. It could be argued that they present a biased view motivated by financial interest. An increasing amount of scientific evidence now shows that cow’s milk is not the wonder food the dairy industry would have us believe. This research goes further in linking the consumption of cow’s milk to a wide range of health problems. Many people, even health professionals, may find it hard to be objective about the detrimental impact of dairy products on health described in this report because of the emotional attachment many of us have to the idea that milk is natural and healthy.

The aim of this report is to redress the balance by presenting and reviewing the research on the health effects of cow’s milk and dairy products.