Cheese: A Big Obesity Villain

PCRM billboards

Way back in 2003, Dr. Neal D. Barnard wrote about the cheese industry’s awareness of its product’s addictive qualities. He said that strategies are carefully crafted by the marketing staff to lead “cheese cravers” into further involvement with their product. Barnard wrote:

At a ‘Cheese Forum’ held Dec. 5, 2000, Dick Cooper, the vice president of Cheese Marketing for Dairy Management Inc., laid out the industry’s scheme for identifying potential addicts and keeping them hooked. In his slide presentation, which was released to our organization under the Freedom of Information Act, he asked the question, ‘What do we want our marketing program to do?’ and then gave the answer: ‘Trigger the cheese craving.’

There was also much talk of special partnerships to create special promotions, like a single pizza with a pound of cheese on it.

In 2004, Starre Vartan wrote, “Eliminating cheese… was a daily torture,” and speculated on the question of whether cheese is a drug:

When I started seeing articles declaring that cheese could be addictive, it didn’t take much to convince me that I was a recovering cheese addict. Or was I? Was there something found naturally in cheese that is as habit-forming as the caffeine in coffee?

Yes, childhood obesity is related to fast food joints, and cheese shows up pretty frequently on those menus. We have talked about Leigh Peele, a trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She considered dairy products, and specifically a casomorphin known as BCM7, as possibly addictive substances. But, as we also mentioned:

Peele gives her sources and concludes that the main reason why BCM7 can’t be addictive is that it doesn’t survive its journey through the human digestive system long enough to retain any potentially addictive properties. In order to have any effect at all, it would have to be administered by injection.

That sounded an awful lot like a final word on a subject. But now Kristi Gustafson Barlette, a Times Union staff writer, is saying a whole lot of new and different things about cheese. Here’s a shocker: The reporter learned from dietician Beth Wasniski that some patients will give up chocolate before they will quit cheese. Chocolate! When a substance conquers chocolate as an object of desire, that substance needs to be taken seriously.

Wasniski said cheese is loaded with saturated fat, which is the worst kind, and also stated that:

… [C]heese poses a bigger dietary problem than other foods because people have a hard time gauging portion size.

For these reasons and others, a nonprofit group called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has caused two billboards to be put up next to highways. The one for men says, “Your Abs on Cheese,” and the women’s version says, “Your Thighs on Cheese,” and people have varying opinions about them. They have, in fact, been called insane.

But billboards are not the only expression of the group’s beliefs. Barlette tells us:

Studies have shown obese children often become obese adults. So, in an attempt to curb the weight gain early, Dr. Neal Barnard, president of PCRM, has pleaded with schools to minimize dairy products served in schools to help students reduce the risk of childhood obesity. This week, he sent a letter to Daniel Egan, president of the Albany city school board, criticizing popular, higher-fat lunch options such as pizza, cheeseburgers and lasagna.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Food Fix is In,” Orlando Sentinel, 07/13/03
Source: “Just like cheese? Avoiding ‘addiction’ with dairy-free alternatives,”, 2004
Source: “Food Addiction: Just Say Cheese?,” Childhood Obesity News, 10/05/10
Source: “On naughty list, does cheese stand alone?,” Times Union, 01/18/12
Image of PCRM billboards is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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