October 16, 2011

Multimedia: The science behind milk board claims

Nature’s sports drink? A review

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board promotes chocolate milk as a sports recovery beverage because it has both carbohydrates and protein. “Recent studies show, and coaches agree, low fat chocolate milk naturally provides this winning ratio … more effectively than most sports drinks,” states its website.

The board doesn’t mention that most studies on milk as a sports beverage have been funded by groups with ties to the dairy industry. A nutrition study that receives industry funding is more likely to report a favorable result compared to one that doesn’t, according to a review of such studies (1). The trend is also true for some fields of medical research (2,3).

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism researched funding sources and results for eight studies on milk as a sports beverage. We found studies by searching PubMed and Google Scholar for the terms “milk” plus “exercise” or “sports.” Six studies disclosed industry funding; in four of these, athletes who drank milk performed better than others. The other two studies found mixed results.


Note: The Center looked only at results related to sports performance.


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1. Lesser LI, Ebbeling CB, Goozner M, Wypij D, Ludwig DS (2007) Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles. PLoS Med 4(1): e5.

2. Paul M Ridker, MD; Jose Torres, BA. Reported Outcomes in Major Cardiovascular Clinical Trials Funded by For-Profit and Not-for-Profit Organizations: 2000-2005. JAMA. 2006;295(19):2270-2274.

3. Leopold SS, Warme WJ, Fritz Braunlich E, Shott S. Association between funding source and study outcome in orthopaedic research. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2003 Oct;(415):293-301.

Fact-checking the milk board’s health claims

Some statements checked out. But the Center also found some claims unsupported by science, and some where most evidence came from industry-funded studies. Click the image to view a pop-up gallery.