The role of dairy food intake for improving health among black Americans across the life continuum: A summary of the evidence

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of the National Medical Association




2 Pt 2




African American; Black; Chronic disease; Dairy intake; Health equity; Lactose intolerance; Life stage


Decades of health data show major health disparities occurring at every life stage between Black and White Americans. These disparities include greater mortality rates among Black mothers and their offspring, higher levels of malnutrition and obesity among Black children and adolescents, and a higher burden of chronic disease and lower life expectancy for Black adults. Although nutrition is only one of many factors that influence human health and well-being across the life continuum, a growing body of research continues to demonstrate that consuming a healthy dietary pattern is one of the most dominant factors associated with increased longevity, improved mental health, improved immunity, and decreased risk for obesity and chronic disease. Unfortunately, large percentages of Black Americans tend to consume inadequate amounts of several essential nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium; and simultaneously consume excessive amounts of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages to a greater degree than other racial/ethnic groups. Therefore, strategies that can help improve dietary patterns for Black Americans could make up a major public health opportunity for reducing nutrition-related diseases and health disparities across the life course. A key intervention strategy to improve diet quality among Black Americans is to focus on increasing the intake of nutrient-rich dairy foods, which are significantly underconsumed by most Black Americans. Compared to other food group, dairy foods are some of the most accessible and affordable sources of essential nutrients like vitamin A, D, and B12, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and zinc in the food supply, as well as being some of the primary sources of several health-promoting bioactive compounds, including polar lipids, bioactive proteins and peptides, oligosaccharides, and live and active cultures in fermented products. Given the complex relationships that many Black Americans have with dairy foods, due to issues with lactose intolerance, and/or negative perceptions about the health effects of dairy foods, there is still a need to examine the role that dairy foods play in the health and well-being of Black Americans of all ages and life stages. Therefore, the National Medical Association and its partners have produced multiple reports on the value of including adequate dairy in the diet of Black Americans. This present summary paper and its associated series of evidence reviews provide an examination of an immense amount of research focused on dairy intake and health outcomes, with an emphasis on evidence-based strategies for improving the health of Black Americans. Overall, the findings and conclusions from this body of research continue to indicate that higher dairy intake is associated with reduced risk for many of the most commonly occurring deficiencies and diseases impacting each life stage, and that Black Americans would receive significantly greater health benefits by increasing their daily dairy intake levels to meet the national recommendations than they would from continuing to fall short of these recommendations. However, these recommendations must be considered with appropriate context and nuance as the intake of different dairy products can have different impacts on health outcomes. For instance, vitamin D fortified dairy products and fermented dairy products like yogurt - which are low in lactose and rich in live and active cultures - tend to show the greatest benefits for improved health. Importantly, there are significant limitations to these research findings for Black Americans, especially as they relate to reproductive and child health, since most of the research on dairy intake and health has failed to include adequate representation of Black populations or to sufficiently address the role of dairy intake during the most vulnerable life stages, such as pregancy, lactation, fetal development, early childhood, and older age. This population and these life stages require considerably more research and policy attention if health equity is ever to be achieved for Black Americans. Sharing and applying the learnings from this summary paper and its associated series of evidence reviews will help inform and empower nutrition and health practitioners to provide more evidence-based dietary recommendations for improving the health and well-being of Black Americans across the life course.