Ad campaign milks dairy products for all they are worth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 12:00am

Hong Kong people are drinking more milk amid an aggressive marketing campaign promoting it as a health drink.

But nutritionists fear the trend could lead to more obesity and diabetes.

A study by market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres found nearly three out of four households bought fresh or long-life milk in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with 65 per cent in the same quarter in 2001.

There was also a jump in sales of other dairy products, with the percentage of households buying yoghurt rising from 15.4 to 19.5 per cent.

The research firm's spokeswoman, Helen Passingham-Hughes, said: 'The younger generation of Asians seems to recognise the health benefits of dairy products and are changing their eating habits. Asian mothers, in particular Chinese, appear to want these benefits.'

But dietician Ng Ty-son warned the switch carried risks. 'Milk is not the panacea to health problems, but it provides all the proteins we need,' he said.

'People who indulge in unhealthy diets always want to relieve their guilty conscience and now they are chasing after all kinds of milk, from low-fat to high-calcium, before or after they go for another feast of junk food.

'All milks are similar in nutrient value, despite all the different kinds of substances they add. The companies do it just to entertain consumers' frantic search for a health remedy.'

Georgia Sue Guldan, associate professor of the Food and Nutritional Science Programme of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said people needed to be educated about the nutrient value of dairy products.

'Milk can bring better bones and teeth, but it only means higher cholesterol levels and a greater risk of diabetes if you have too much,' she said.

'The limit should be no more than two glasses of low-fat milk a day. You should avoid high-sugar dairy products like ice-creams and cakes, and full-cream milk.'

Mr Ng said the figures coincided with the increasing prevalence of diabetes in Hong Kong and China. According to the World Health Organisation, there are now 250 million diabetics worldwide. This number is expected to jump to 300 million by 2025 and most will be in Asia. The countries expected to top the list are India, China and the United States.

'Consumers should be wise in choosing dairy products and be disciplined in their diets, or dairy products will contribute nothing but extra pounds,' Mr Ng said.