Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Dairy Avoidance at Dangerous Levels

One in six adult Australians are choosing to avoid milk and dairy foods, the majority without a medical diagnosis, leading to public health concerns for women in particular.

The CSIRO survey found that 75% of these people are making this choice to relieve adverse gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps, bloating or wind. Far fewer participants cited that they didn’t like the taste or thought that dairy was fattening.

The study also revealed that the decision to avoid some or all dairy foods is influenced by a range of sources from outside medical practice, such as the internet, media, friends or alternative practitioners.

“The scale of people restricting their diet without a medical reason is very concerning in terms of the public health implications, especially for women,” says Bella Yantcheva of CSIRO. “It means there is potential for nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, or the risk that an underlying health condition could be going untreated,” she said.

Dairy foods are particularly important for women due to its calcium content, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis. For women aged 19–50 years, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend two-and-a-half serves of dairy or dairy alternatives per day, increasing to four serves per day after the age of 50. However, the study revealed that more women are avoiding milk and dairy foods than men.

The results follow similar findings for wheat avoidance, which showed that around ten times as many Australians are avoiding wheat-based foods than the number diagnosed with coeliac disease.

The study reveals that even more people are avoiding dairy products, with around one-third of those avoiding dairy foods also avoiding wheat-based foods. “The numbers show that cutting out significant, basic food groups isn’t a fad but something far more serious,” Yantcheva says.

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, dairy and grain-based foods contribute significantly to our intake of fibre, protein and a range of vitamins and nutrients including calcium, iodine, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc.

“It’s not just about missing out on the food type being avoided and risking your health, but also possibly overconsuming other foods to compensate as well,” Yantcheva said.

The research has been published in Public Health Nutrition (http://tinyurl.com/jnl8xws).