explain the origin of my story proposal. A few weeks back I read an article with a suggestive title "Got milk? or Got Sick? New Ad Campaign Asks Minorities".
In it, the reporter wrote "Up to 80 percent of Hispanics are prone to lactose intolerance, according to research published by Cornell University." A spokesperson for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group, was quoted as saying "We think milk should come with a warning label." According to the same article, the group has paid for billboards that read, in part, "If you're lactose intolerant, you may have grounds for a lawsuit."
Milkmakesmesick.org is the website for the campaign. But, does it? Does it make a vast majority of Latinos ill?
The "up to 80 percent" figure
struck me as very high and I wondered
why I had never heard of this issue before. I filed the story away and allowed it to
collect a bit of dust. I pulled it out again when I read another more recent article
about Dr. Aliza Lifshitz agreeing to sport a milk mustache. This story specifically states the advertising campaign is designed "counter recent advertisements by groups highlighting Latinos' predisposition to lactose intolerance." This according to Siboney USA, the Hispanic agency for the Milk Processor Education Program. So is it Got Sick
as the advocacy group suggests or does milk really do a Latino body good? I don't
know the answer, yet. But, I will. My curiosity has been piqued. Later today, I
will schedule a few interviews.
Still, there are some preliminary indications (which may well be reversed upon further research) that "up to 80 percent" figure may not tell the full story. First off, 52% is an oft-cited percentage in academic literature for the prevalence of lactose intolerance among Mexican-Americans. Another apparent figure (apparent because I can find no specific source for it) is 73.8% for Mexicans from rural communities. The authors of this double-blind study done in Mexico suggest the incidence of lactose intolerance may be overstated in rural areas and confused with other gastrointestinal problems.
The picture gets murkier (or milkier if you prefer) when you consider that there seems to be scientific consensus that some who are lactose intolerant can consume a small amount (the exact volume varies) of milk or dairy products without significant adverse effect.
Still, even if the prevalence among Mexicans (I've seen no data specific to Cubans, Dominicans or Puerto Ricans) is closer to 43% (the lowest number I came across) there are an awful lot of people out there who might benefit from consuming a bit less queso and crema. This presents a question, which I will pose to Dr. Lifschitz (who is married to the head of a Hispanic advertising agency). Is milk good for Latinos or not? If so, then what is the recommended amount and under what conditions. If not, then why promote its consumption.