A new book by Dr. Julie Wei says a diet high in milk and sugar may lead to ear, nose and throat problems in children

January 25, 2013

By Donna Peck

Julie Wei, M.D.

Julie Wei, M.D., an associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center, has spent years treating children with ear, nose and throat complaints. Often, the children were on several medications but not showing improvement. Several years ago, Wei, a pediatric otolaryngologist, started to suspect that a significant number of children she was seeing were misdiagnosed and over-medicated. She had a theory that her patients' diets, particularly dairy and sugar, might be a major factor in their ear, nose and throat symptoms.  

Wei began to ask parents when and what they were feeding their children - particularly at night. She discovered often children were eating foods high in dairy and sugar, which led her to coin the phrase "Milk and Cookie Disease." Wei says in the majority of cases when parents cut out dairy and sugar, especially after dinner and at night, their children are sleeping, feeling, and eating better, and often thriving with fewer or no medications.

Wei has published her findings in a new book titled "A Healthier Wei: Reclaiming Health for Misdiagnose and Overmedicated Children."  We spoke to her about her book and her crusade to educate parents about the importance of a healthy diet for their children.

Q:  How did you come to the conclusion that there was a "Milk and Cookie Disease"?

Wei:  I have been treating children with ear, nose and throat conditions for quite some time, and I was often puzzled as to why otherwise healthy children were suffering from asthma and allergies that didn't respond to medications. I remember I had a patient - a 10-year-old girl - who had experienced 27 bouts of croup over her young life. She was on six medications and nothing was working. At one point, I asked her parents about her diet, and they told me she had milk and cookies for a snack every night before bedtime. I suggested they cut out the dairy and sugar in the evenings, and she went six months without any problems. A light bulb went off, and I began asking many of my patients' parents what they were eating at night. It was astounding how often it was something containing either sugar or dairy, or often both. I felt like I had found a critical non-invasive way to help alleviate ear, nose and throat problems in many children.

Q:  What kind of symptoms do you see in children that might have "Milk and Cookie Disease"?

Wei:  The three main symptoms I see are a chronic stuffy nose, a persistent cough and recurring sinus infections. While true chronic rhinosinusitis in children will also show these same symptoms, based on my research, a majority of healthy children can have any or all of these same symptoms if they are in the habit of eating evening or bedtime snacks.

Q:  How do parents react when you tell them that their child's health problems might be attributable to diet?

Wei:  On rare occasions, they are skeptical and even angry when I suggest that their child may not be as "sick," in the medical sense, as they have been led to believe. But more often than not, they are so relieved that they aren't facing more medications and even surgery, and that there might be a simple solution to their child's condition. I find that parents are very motivated to change how they feed their children when I explain to them why too much dairy and sugar, as well as eating late at night, leads to reflux which contributes to these ENT symptoms.

Q: It would seem that eliminating snacks with sugar and milk before bedtime would be good advice for anyone.

Wei:  Oh absolutely. The foods we eat today are more acidic than they used to be, and that has led to a rise in ear, nose and throat maladies, as well as gastro-intestinal conditions. I'm not saying children and adults should never eat anything in the evening. But stick to water and snacks like bananas, dry crackers, whole grain toast or a little popcorn.

Q: Your book also has some healthy meal and snack recipes that parents can make for their children.

Wei:  Listen, we have a 6-year-old daughter, so I know how challenging it can be to get kids to eat healthy. But I have collected some recipes over the years that I have enjoyed making for and with my child. There aren't many kids who don't like my whole grain flax banana chocolate chip muffins!

Q: What has the reaction been to your book?

Wei:  Really fantastic. A lot of people are buying it and then come back and buy more copies for their families and friends. I've also been gratified by the reaction I've received from my fellow physicians. I think the book is helping many of them think outside of the box a little when it comes to treating their young patients with ear, nose and throat problems. But I feel like I have much more work to do on this issue. I'm hoping my book is just the first step in a grassroots movement to start an important conversation with all families, to really focus on how to help our children eat in "A Healthier Wei" and live healthier lives.

Dr. Wei's book, "A Healthier Wei: Reclaiming Health for Misdiagnose and Overmedicated Children," can be purchased at her website.The website also has links to Dr. Wei's blog posts, a documentary trailer, and her radio and television interviews about the book.

Last modified: Feb 11, 2013