The contribution farmers make to the dairy checkoff is used in many ways to promote the consumption of milk and dairy products. During a “Your dairy checkoff” podcast, registered dietitian Katie Brown emphasized the valuable role these funds play to help shape food programs in our nation.
“It’s important for dairy farmers to know that their checkoff investment in research to discover the nutritional and wellness benefits of dairy has added such significant value to public health in our country and around that world,” said Brown, who serves as the senior vice president of the National Dairy Council.
First, she touched on dairy’s place in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which are updated and released every five years. The National Dairy Council funds hundreds of studies, and research on dairy foods provides data that is used by decision makers.
“Because of that evidence, dairy has been included in every edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for the past 40 years,” she noted. “Dairy has been represented as a unique and distinct food group.”
Research supported by checkoff dollars also helps ensure dairy foods remain a staple in federal feeding programs.
“Dairy is foundational in federal nutrition security programs, and it is integral in school meals and to Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” Brown said. “Federal feeding programs receive $114 billion annually, supporting access to nutrition food and meals, including dairy, that reach 80 million children and adults.”
This equates to about 12 billion pounds of dairy supplied by U.S. dairy farmers. “They should be very proud of that,” Brown said.
When it comes to shaping the dietary guidelines, Brown explained that the National Dairy Council can’t lobby or influence government policy, but the council can provide scientific-based evidence and share comments during the process.
The most recent guidelines were released in 2020 and will remain in effect until 2025. Brown reminded listeners that dairy fared very well in the last edition and shared four of dairy’s wins in the current guidelines:
1. Dairy remained its own food group.
2. Science-backed dietary guideline recommendations, which include milk and dairy foods, are linked to positive health benefits across a person’s lifespan.
3. The dietary guidelines make it clear that not all “milks” are equal, and Brown said dairy stands alone because it is tough to match its nutrient package. The only milk alternative included in the guidelines is soy, and Brown explained that because it is fortified, it does come close to dairy milk in terms of protein and nutrients.
4. For the first time, recommendations for children from birth to 2 years of age were included in the guidelines. That was good news, Brown said, because yogurt and cheese are recommended starting at 6 months of age.
Brown said the upcoming review cycle will focus on saturated fats, and this is a prime opportunity to highlight dairy’s value as a healthy fat source. She noted that farmers’ continued commitment to the checkoff will allow groups like the National Dairy Council to educate the scientific and health communities and share the growing evidence of dairy’s healthy attributes.