Just when the health-conscious public was getting familiar with the "5 A Day" campaign -- the one that urges us to stay healthy by eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily -- along comes the "3-A-Day" plan.
It may sound like a quick-fix way to skimp, but it's not.
"3-A-Day" is a new campaign by the National Dairy Council, the folks who helped made milk mustaches chic. It urges us to eat enough dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt.
"5 A Day" was begun in California with a National Cancer Institute grant and then taken nationwide in 1991; now it's a private-public partnership that includes government agencies and fruit and vegetable industry organizations.
The "5 A Day" folks don't seem to think imitation flatters. They have fired off a letter to the dairy council, asking it to dismantle the campaign. Representatives from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and other organizations signed the letter.
Their gripes? Besides the dairy council's obvious borrowing of a slogan that's gotten national recognition, the message to eat low-fat dairy products is not prominent enough, the "5-A-Day" proponents say. And the campaign urges three servings a day, while large portions of the population need only two. The public is likely to get confused, they explain.
"From a Cancer Society perspective, our biggest issue is probably that they have this campaign going that is not doing much to promote low-fat or fat-free dairy products," says Colleen Doyle, a registered dietitian who serves as nutrition and physical activity director for the American Cancer Society.
"The recipes on the [3-A-Day] Web site include low-fat and reduced-fat," she says. "We really don't have any issue with the fact that they are promoting dairy products, but we wish there had been a [stronger] low-fat message. With cancer and heart disease rates so high, it would have been desirable to see that message as a primary message of the campaign."
However, Ann Marie Krautheim, a registered dietitian who is vice president of nutrition and health promotion for the dairy council, can't understand why the fruit and veggie people can't work with the dairy people to improve America's eating habits.
"Our program is funded by dairy farmers who since 1915 have been committed to investing in nutrition education and research to improve the health of the American public," she says.
As to the concern about confusion, she disagrees. "We believe the opposite is true," she says. Studies have shown that consumers want to know not only what to eat, but how much, she says. "We developed a campaign that tells the consumer how much and how often [they should eat dairy products]. Three a day clearly brings the benefit of dairy to the forefront. The logo has pictures of milk, cheese and yogurt. People should not be confused."
The food guide pyramid recommends two to three servings of dairy a day, Krautheim says: "We have focused on the number three." Under the current food guide pyramid recommendations, children aged 9 to 18 and adults over the age of 50 need three servings and others need two.
Some health professional don't understand the fuss. The two programs, says Dr. Michael Fleming, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, "appear to be totally complementary. Both programs try to educate people about nutrition."