Monday, February 6, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Cheese: PCRM's Anti-Cheese Scare Tactics

Last week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) were at it again with in-your-face ads blaming a much loved food for America’s poor health.  These are the same folks who told baseball fans not to eat hotdogs because eating a hotdog is like smoking a cigarette (see the hotdogs in the cigarette pack here:  This time, cheese was on the receiving end of PCRM’s wagging finger of shame.
The new anti-cheese ads show big bellies and fat thigh thighs accompanied by: “Your Abs on Cheese” and “Your Thighs on Cheese”. You can see the controversial and annoying ads here:   I have several problems with these kinds of ad campaigns:
1.    They don’t work. Do groups like PCRM honestly think that cheese-loving Americans are going to give up their cheddar because of obnoxious billboards like these? If anything, contrarian Americans will eat more cheese just to show ‘em that they can’t tell us what not to eat. I count myself among cheese-loving contrarian Americans and am eating a piece of cheese as I write this.
2.    They are biased.  Neal Barnard, MD, the leader of PCRM, has his own version of the four food groups that has no animal foods at all. Trying to turn all of America into vegan vegetarians, while a healthy proposition, is futile. We love our meat and dairy in America. Dr. Barnard says that cheese increases the risk of heart disease and causes obesity. If you eat too much cheese and it contributes to weight gain, then that is true. But that is true of anything that has calories. If you eat cheese within the context of an overall healthy diet that is low enough in calories to keep your weight healthy, then cheese is not bad for you. In fact, it’s high in protein and calcium – two important nutrients.  Dr. Barnard often commits the cardinal sin of claiming that data from observational studies shows cause and effect relationships – something observational studies cannot do. In fact, cause and effect type studies showing that cheese does not increase bad cholesterol levels are starting to rack up.
3.     It makes the rest of us look bad. Who wants to listen to a big bunch of patriarchal buzz kills who don’t want you to eat anything that they deem unhealthy? When nutrition experts are constantly telling you all the things you like are bad for you, of course you’ll start tuning them out. 
In Dr. Barnard’s defense, he is mounting this campaign because America’s cheese intake has increased dramatically over the decades. Cheese is high in fat – and not the healthy kind. The folks at PCRM are not bad people – they promote ethical treatment of research animals and do truly care about the health of the American public.  For those who are vegan vegetarians – it’s a great and healthy choice. But meat eaters can be healthy too. Vilifying a single beloved food is not the way to help Americans eat healthier and fix the obesity problem.  We need to focus on being more active and eating patterns as a whole rather than taking one food to the woodshed.
Beth Kitchin, PhD, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham 

1 comment:

  1. Plus he needs to check out Dr. Zimmel's work showing that at a eucaloric level, consuming foods high in calcium, such as cheese and yogurt, actually help you lose weight-especially in the midsection. More cheese please!