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Woman who gained weight on dairy diet sues industry, food companies

WASHINGTON—The desire to shed a few pounds was all Catherine Holmes was hoping for when she embarked on a weight-loss journey that has now led her to file two lawsuits against dairy industry trade groups and food companies.

Holmes and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine announced Tuesday they have filed lawsuits in Arlington, Va., to stop an advertising campaign claiming milk products assist in weight loss. The suits were filed against the International Dairy Foods Association, National Dairy Council, Dairy Management Inc., Kraft Foods, General Mills and Dannon. McNeill Nutritionals LLC, the producer of Lactaid, and LifeWay Foods, the maker of kefir, a yogurt-like beverage, are also defendants.

The dairy industry disputed the allegations in the lawsuit.

"This ad campaign exploits those individuals who are trying to do something about their weight," said Mindy Kursban, the executive director and general counsel of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington-based vegan advocacy organization. The announcement was made in the National Press Club.

Holmes, who ate kefir, yogurt, buttermilk and cheese for the four months she followed her diet, gained "a few pounds" instead of losing the weight she hoped to take off during the holiday season.

PCRM said the dairy industry's claims that milk products will aid in weight loss is based on two studies by Michael Zemel, a professor at the University of Tennessee. According to Amy Lanou, senior nutrition scientist for the PCRM, Zemel's studies resulted in weight loss due to calorie restriction, not from using milk products.

"Milk is not a necessary food and it should stopped being marketed," Lanou said.

However, Zemel says he has always been straightforward in that calorie restriction is involved with his studies, and that while it aids in weight loss, it is not the sole reason his patients lost weight.

"For a given calorie restriction, adding milk makes the diet twice as effective," Zemel said. "In the last five years, dozens of scientists have replicated our work in that now it is mainstream."

The first lawsuit filed by Holmes and PCRM aims to force the dairy industry to stop what Dan Kinburn, associate general counsel for PCRM, calls a "fake" ad campaign.

The second lawsuit is a claim for $236 in "the amount (Holmes) spent in a failed attempt to lose weight," Kinburn said.

PCRM is also launching a new ad campaign called, "Got Flab?," that fights the dairy industry's claims that milk consumption triggers weight loss, and suggests a dairy-free, vegetarian diet will prevent weight gain.

Susan Ruland, of the International Dairy Foods Association, said that this type of lawsuit is "not unexpected from this group" and that the International Dairy Foods Association has seen litigation like this before.

"Things they've tried to do haven't really gone anywhere," Ruland said. "The science is strong to get milk and milk products into diet to manage weight."

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(c) 2005, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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