Checkoff Investment in Science Helps Reinforce Dairy’s Place in Dietary Guidelines

Dr. Katie Brown, Senior Vice President, Scientific Affairs & Outreach National Dairy Council

Dr. Katie Brown

Great news for dairy farmers and importers: Your dairy checkoff’s longstanding investment in sound science played a strong role in reinforcing dairy as a nutritious food group in the recently released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

This affirmation is especially significant, as the guidelines set the requirements for dairy products distributed through school meals, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) feeding program that help keep dairy in homes and cafeterias across the country. In 2019, more than 10 billion pounds of fluid milk, 683 million pounds of cheese and 662 million pounds of yogurt and other dairy foods nourished people through these programs.

The DGA, updated every five years with science-based input from the dairy community during official calls for public comments, contains USDA and Department of Health and Human Services guidance on diet and health for Americans across the entire lifespan, including pregnancy and lactation, from birth to 23 months, and for individuals ages 2 and older.

Checkoff-led research benefits

The checkoff has a long history of investing in sound science, and though we are not allowed to lobby, our work supporting dairy’s role in human health is key to the process. We work closely with other dairy organizations to make certain this science is broadly communicated.

As part of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s public comment process, the checkoff-led National Dairy Council (NDC) provided written comments and testified about dairy’s important role in the diet. This is based not only on our own funded research but on the careful review of literally hundreds of other studies conducted by third parties.

NDC also communicates research and messaging through social and traditional media on a variety of subjects, such as whole milk dairy foods, inflammation and bone health. We host scientific and nutrition experts at symposia designed to share the most up-to-date research information with leaders and those in the public domain.

The preponderance of sound checkoff-supported science, and our collaboration with other organizations to disseminate it and its implications, went a long way to make sure dairy was reinforced as a vital part of the guidelines.

Many of the dairy recommendations, including that Americans ages 9 and older consume three servings daily as part of the Healthy U.S. and Healthy Vegetarian Eating Patterns, are consistent with previous DGA editions.

Here are some other dairy highlights from this new DGA version:

  • Dairy is its own food group. The 2020-2025 DGA again classified dairy as its own food group. The dairy group includes low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt as well as lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverage and soy yogurt – but no other plant-based alternatives.
  • Three servings stay. The DGA recommends three servings of dairy in the Healthy U.S.-Style and Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Patterns for those 9 years and older.
  • Dairy recognized for contributing to healthy dietary patterns. The DGA’s recommended dietary patterns, which include low-fat and non-fat dairy foods for Americans over age 2, are developed to promote health, reduce risk of chronic disease and meet nutrient needs.
  • Dairy contributes key nutrients. The DGA notes “about 90 percent of the U.S. population does not meet dairy recommendations.” The USDA’s updated MyPlate website describes the many nutrients provided by dairy and MyPlate details the benefits of calcium and vitamin D in dairy for building and maintaining strong bones. The MyPlate app also includes 200 recipes featuring dairy.
  • Calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D are considered dietary components of public health concern. The DGA states that “individuals should be encouraged to make shifts to increase the intake of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and dairy …”
  • Dairy supports child nutrition. For the first time, dietary recommendations for children under 2 are provided. Nutrient-rich yogurt and cheese are recommended for children starting as early as 6 months as complementary foods to introduce and whole milk is recommended to introduce starting with a baby’s first birthday. From 12-23 months, whole milk, reduced-fat plain yogurt and reduced-fat cheese are recommended.

Continued emphasis on science

We already are anticipating the work needed to keep advancing the evidence on dairy’s important role in the 2025-2030 DGA. As one example, the intersection between personal health and agricultural sustainability is of increasing interest to consumers and organizations that are having dialogue around dietary guidance and sustainable food systems. As the dairy community sharpens its focus on sustainability, NDC is ready to address how dairy contributes to health and sustainable food systems.

We are committed to this strategy and continue to work with others to highlight the benefits of all dairy, including whole-milk varieties. Our work is helping to build evidence in these areas.

The checkoff may be best-known for our higher-profile marketing, promotion and in-school activities that encourage increased dairy demand and reinforce our farmers’ great reputation.

Just as important to dairy’s continued place in the American diet – and to dairy’s future – are the efforts that take place in quieter arenas.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit or send a request to join our Facebook group. To reach us directly, send an email to

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