By Robert Cohen Executive Director Text Only

Milking The JFK Legend

Like many people, I find fascinating most things related to
the Kennedy mystique. This past week, shortly before the
39th anniversary of President John F.Kennedy's
assassination, the news media reported stories of JFK's drug
use, illnesses, and near-death experiences from chronic

How sick was this man? How much pain was he in? What ailed
him? I read the Robert Dallek article in the December, 2002
issue of Atlantic Monthly (pp. 49-61) and was stunned.
Kennedy was far from the picture of the vigorous healthy and
athletic man that biographers and historians painted.

As a child, Kennedy was plagued by bronchitis and ear
infections, a telltale symptom of milk consumption. See:

JFK's weakened immune system fell victim to one disease
after another, including measles, German measles, mumps, and
whooping cough. Kennedy also suffered from degenerative bone
disease and severe rheumatoid arthritis.

At the age of 13, one doctor suggested that John drink more
milk, and at age 14, Kennedy experienced severe gastric
distress. He spent a full month at the Mayo Clinic while
attending eighth grade, but doctors could not identify the
cause of, nor cure his colitis. Got Crohn's Disease?:

In an effort to research JFK's love for dairy, I spent the
better part of Friday, November 22, 2002 in the public
library, searching for mention of milk consumption in dozens
of Kennedy biographies. Was JFK a cheesehead? I found
enormous supporting evidence for John Kennedy's love of

"At 13 Jack went away to school for the first time. Jack was
pretty homesick...he wrote home to ask for...chocolate cream

John F. Kennedy - Young People's President
by Catherine Corley Anderson (1991), page 13

"Sick at Harvard, he bribed his roommate
to bring him steaks and chocolate malted milk."

The Story of John F. Kennedy
by Earl Schenck Myers (1964), page 14

"For eight months, Kennedy traveled back and forth
the state, living on cheeseburgers and milkshakes."

Encyclopedia of Presidents
by Zachary Kent (1987), page 46

Throughout his 1960 run for the presidency, and during his
term of office, aides and advisors carefully kept his
painful suffering and disease from the public.

In the middle of America's closest brush with nuclear war,
the Cuban Missile Crisis, a curious question is recorded on
an Oval Office tape recorder. Kennedy, under stress, and
showing discomfort to those around him, is asked:

"John, do you want some milk?"

October 21, 1962
The Presidential Recordings, Volume 2. Page 273

Earlier in the year, JFK expressed support for America's
milk producers. On January 26, 1962, an eight minute public
service announcement was issued by the U.S Agricultural
Research Service. Kennedy's speech to the National
Conference on Milk and Nutrition was held earlier that week
in Washington, D.C.

In that speech, Mr. Kennedy discusses the fact that as
population increased during the 50s and 60s, milk
consumption was decreasing. Kennedy (supported by dairy
producers during his election run against Richard Nixon)
stressed the critical importance of milk in his own daily
diet. He also downplayed the significance of radioactive
substances, such as strontium-90 in milk, citing research
that we now know to be untrue. Fallout from nuclear testing
tainted America's milk, and compromised the health and
safety of America's children.

What was JFK eating in the White House?

"In their quarters, Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy eat lunch from
trays. They are served grilled cheese sandwiches... the
president drinks tea or a glass of milk."

A Day In The Life of President Kennedy by Tim Bishop (1964),
page 56

Thousands of school children sent letters to America's

"Dear Mr. President,

We all think you are a terrific President except for one
thing. Yesterday in the newspapers you said that everybody
should drink lots of milk. Couldn't you say that everybody
should drink lots of ice cream sodas and coke? Give us a
break. Your pals, Richard, Jack, Larry, and Mike -
Gainesville, Florida"

John F. Kennedy and the Young People of America by Bill
Adler (1965), page 26

Nations with the highest rates of osteoporosis include
Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Sweden. Nations in which
people consume the greatest amounts of milk and cheese have
the highest rates of bone disease. It is clear that John F.
Kennedy loved dairy products. He was one of the dairy
industry's biggest supporters. Kennedy had trouble walking,
and had to use crutches. He could not walk up or down stairs
unless aided, and had to shuffle sideways, due to skeletal
pain. In fact, Kennedy's pain was so severe, that he could
not bend over at the waist to tie his own shoes.

JFK wore a full body back brace.

On November 22, 1963, the first of three assassin's bullets
struck our 35th President in the neck, nicking the corner of
his tie. This first gunshot would not have been fatal.
Unable to bend or slump to his seat, Kennedy remained a
stationary and upright target. Nearly five seconds later,
Mr. Kennedy was shot in the head, and his legacy now belongs
to the ages.

Robert Cohen, author of:   MILK A-Z
Executive Director (
Dairy Education Board

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