If you’ve been awake, breathing air and maintaining a pulse, you’re well aware that a growing segment of the American population now believes that meat and dairy foods are problematic.
By that I mean the belief that eating meat and drinking milk makes such a consumer a contributor to a host of serious societal and ecological problems: global warming, animal abuse and a litany of health problems that include obesity, heart disease and cancer.
It’s bad enough that farmers, ranchers and producers are demonized as — at best — victims of Big Ag, and at worse, immoral profiteers who are killing people and destroying the Earth.
I’m exaggerating, but not by much, and if you doubt me, spend some time chatting up ordinary people at the mall, at church, at a ballgame or at some community event. Ask them what they think about our current food system and about the benefits of raising livestock and consuming animal foods. Even people who routinely put those foods on their shopping lists and on their dinner tables will express doubts about the validity of animal agriculture’s production and processing systems, as well as the dubious impact — nutritionally and ecologically — of what used to be known as the traditional American diet.
But for all the doubt and negativity (little of it justified, of course), there is one positive thing that animal foods appear to have accomplished, and it affects one of the most pernicious and troubling health problems facing our country: the alarming rate of childhood obesity.
Yes, thanks (mostly) to dairy foods, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA showed that obese children ages 2 to 4 who were enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — commonly known as WIC — registered a significant decrease in obesity rates during the period from 2010 to 2014.
For those unfamiliar, WIC, to quote USDA (which oversees the programs run by the states), is “a federal program that promotes healthy eating and nutrition education for infants and children up to age 5, and for low-income women who are pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding.”
So why did these young children experience a decrease in obesity? Because the children and the families on the program are provided with “nutritious foods,” which include milk, cheese and eggs. Yes, participants are encouraged to purchase infant formula, iron-fortified baby cereals and “whole-grain bread” (I add quotes because the phrase “whole-grain” is the biggest scam in the food industry), but the basis of the healthier diets, and thus the improvements in obesity rates, is due at least in large measure to the participants’ access to animal foods.
And the results of the study were significant. The decline in obesity prevalence ranged from about 8% in Utah to as much as 20% in Virginia. Those are not insignificant reductions, as childhood obesity is not only a stubborn and persistent public health problem, it’s also a portent of lifelong health problems that are equally difficult to mitigate.
Now, the official line from USDA and CDC focuses on the impact of the “programming” WIC provides: nutrition education and a focus on exercise and regular medical check-ups. Those components are important and necessary, but all the nutritional information on Earth doesn’t do a bit of good if the audience isn’t able to obtain the components of the “balanced diet” that USDA loves to promote.