People are living longer but rising obesity increases the risk of a number of long term diseases such as type 2 diabetes which increases the risk of other problems such as heart disease and stroke. At present about 700 new cases of type 2 diabetes are diagnosed in the UK every day. The various different life stages are linked with important nutritional and dietary challenges and one important area is the fairly recent reductions in milk consumption by teenage girls and young women. This has led to much lower intakes of calcium than are recommended just at the time when bone growth is at its maximum. Below optimum bone development whilst young can lead to reduced bone strength and increases the risk of bone breakages in later life which in the elderly, can have a major impact on mobility and quality of life. Reduction in milk consumption by young women has also led to below ideal intake of iodine. This is particularly important during early pregnancy to make sure that the supply of thyroid hormones to the unborn is adequate, with marginal iodine status of the mother having been linked to poorer mental development of the child. Many young and middle-aged women also have considerably lower intakes of iron than ideal. This may, at least in part, be linked to reduced consumption of red meat which has occurred over recent decades.

It is clear that milk and dairy foods are key dietary sources of important nutrients such as calcium and iodine but is unclear why substantial reductions in milk consumption are now occurring, especially by teenage girls and young women. It may be that some think that dairy foods are fattening and increase the risk of some long term diseases. A recent summary of many studies involving large numbers of people show no evidence of increased risk of cardiovascular diseases from high consumption of milk and dairy foods and indeed with some evidence of reduced risk of stroke. The results also indicate that consuming fermented dairy food and yoghurt in particular, is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This could be a very important finding although more research is needed to understand the reasons.

There has been considerable uncertainly in many people’s minds as to any link between dairy and meat eating and the risk of cancer. Recent updated reports from the World Cancer Research Fund provide further confidence to earlier findings that milk and dairy products are associated with a reduced risk of cancer of the large intestine and rectum and that high intakes of milk/dairy are not associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Earlier evidence of an increased risk of cancer of the large intestine and rectum from consumption of red and processed meat has been reinforced by the inclusion of more recent studies with the risk linked to processed meat being about twice that of red meat.

This article is freely available for one month: ‘Review: Dairy foods, red meat and processed meat in the diet: implications for health at key life stages‘.

Author: Dr Ian Givens

To view the special topic in the August issue, visit: Livestock production evolving to contribute to sustainable societies

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