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A Challenge to Some Behaviour!

I began to read with mild interest the article on "The Challenge of Behaviour Change" [Sept]. Near the end of the first column I was wondering if the work was being funded by the Dairy Board. Then in column three I was astounded to read that, unashamedly, it is! I am utterly appalled by the approach outlined by the author. It is thoroughly unbalanced and therefore lacking in objectivity and scientific validity. A strong reaction, but I believe justified.

Starting with data suggesting that women in New Zealand and elsewhere have too low a calcium intake for good health, the author states that "The challenge for nutritionists is to improve women's intake of milk products", and then takes this as her goal in the research.

The first and most obvious criticism is that no source of calcium other than milk is considered. Not surprising, with the NZ Dairy Board funding the work! This bias would be acceptable if milk products were the only, or demonstrably the best, source. But this is not done, and is not so.

The second criticism is the equation of "improved" uptake with "increased" uptake. This implicit equation is neither stated nor justified, it is simply assumed. Perhaps it is assumed by the Dairy Board economists and marketeers, but it should not be taken for granted by a scientist concerned with women's nutrition. In fact, we know that for some people, more particularly as children, milk and milk products are not good. A good example is lactose intolerance, not only a problem for some women, but with effects able to be passed on to infants by breast-feeding. But this generally affects only Polynesians, Chinese and some other non-Europeans, and these probably do not matter to the Dairy Board.

So what we seem to have here is biased unbalanced research aimed not at a scientific solution but at "improving" (read "increasing") women's uptake of milk products. This is not science, it is marketing! And it demonstrates the sort of problems we can be faced with when research funding is governed by company sponsorships. And when we allow that sponsorship to dictate the research objectives. I am not saying that this is what has gone on in this case, I am saying only that it looks like it, and that it is a good lesson to take note of!

J. A. Grant-Mackie, Auckland