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Flavored Milk: What Side Are You On?

Image from MorgueFileFor most school-aged children going through the lunch line grabbing a carton of chocolate milk out of the milk cooler is as much of a part of their daily routine as sitting in math class or receiving a homework assignment.  It’s always been there as the beverage portion of their lunch, it’s the drink of choice for most and to most it tastes pretty good.   While this may still currently be the norm in many schools across the country, a backlash against this habit is beginning to cause quite a big stir.  This criticism of flavored milk of course has both its supporters and protesters with both sides butting heads with little currently being changed.

The Protesters

It’s first important to take a look at just why something as common as flavored milk is being rallied against in so many school districts across the country.   While this subject is currently at a medium to loud roar, it seems it has been at a slight rumble for years as parents and doctors alike have seen childhood obesity rates steadily increase and have been on the hunt for ways to curb the epidemic.  Studies like the one sited in a recent LA Times article on the subject could be reason enough to take notice.  The study done by the University of Michigan found, “of more than 1,000 sixth-graders found that those who ate school-provided lunches were 29% more likely to be obese than those who brought lunches from home.”  One of the main reasons for this statistic is thought to be the high sugar content of flavored milk which many believe contains far too much sugar for the average student leading to an increase in diabetes, dental issues and obesity among other ailments.

And while many see this as a bunch of hoopla, there may just be some truth behind this high sugar accusation.  According to information from the American Heart Association on the Better DC School Food blog, “A typical eight-ounce serving of chocolate milk contains 14 grams of added sugar, usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which translates as 3.5 teaspoons or 52.5 calories.”   While this may not sound too significant, it must be taken into account that the USDA recommends no more than 2 tsp. or 267 calories from sugar per day based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Then consider that the average 4 to 8 year old should only be taking in about 1,200-1,400 calories per day at a maximum as suggested by the American Heart Association.  In the end this means that if a child drinks one eight-ounce serving of chocolate milk for breakfast and another for lunch, they will be consuming about 7 teaspoons or 105 calories from added sugar per day which is about 5 teaspoons more than what is recommended for an adult.

The Supporters

On the other hand there are still several (parents, students and health professionals alike) that feel that children could do many worse things than drinking milk at school.   Pediatric dentist, Mary J. Hayes, DDS, told ABC News that while yes, it’s not exactly ideal to be drinking only chocolate milk, it’s not nearly as bad as it’s been made to seems.  “With any food you’re concerned about both the amount of sugar and the amount of acid, and while chocolate milk is high in sugar it’s not acidic so it doesn’t etch away at tooth enamel as much as some other things do,” said Hayes.  And while the American Dental Association has not come out with an official stand on the subject, kids are still encouraged to drink milk to ensure healthy bones and teeth, which may not happen if the flavored variety of milk disappears from the lunch line.  A study done by MilkDelivers.org, a program funded by America’s milk processors, reports that in a recent survey of 58 elementary and secondary schools that removed chocolate milks for two years, milk consumption dropped by an average of 35%.

Although, a lack of nutrients and an alternative of less healthy choices can cause problems, it may be a financial issue that keeps many districts from jumping on the bandwagon of doing away with flavored milks.    In the LA Times article cited previously, “For the district to receive federal reimbursement for meals, students may not decline more than one item at breakfast or more than two items at lunch.”  This means if children begin to skip over milk because all that is offered is the un-flavored version funding could be in danger, especially since flavored milks are often one of the most popular items in the lunch line.  Larry Purdom, chairman of the Missouri Dairy Association broke both the funding and nutritional debate down to a simple thought for the Southeast Missourian, “Kids are not going to drink milk if it doesn’t taste good.  We think it’s better for them to drink something maybe with a little more sugar in it than drinking nothing, and then they go home and drink soda pop instead.”

The Results

As of now with the politics of federal funding for lunch programs and a lack of concrete research it seems that the debate most often comes down to a push between both sides.  However, there have been some compromises.  Another article from ABC News shares that some schools are currently looking to replace the existing high sugar options with a version that tastes similar, but utilizes sugars made from sucrose or beets which are somewhat healthier and easier for the body to process.   Still in other schools, protesters have won out and the ban is on, at least temporarily.  Most recently, the L.A. Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school system, has decided to do away with flavored milk beginning with the coming fall semester.  However, while this may be a temporary win for protestor, the flavored milk supporters may win in the end.  The LA Times reports that the district has requested that a no-sugar added version of the flavored milk be formulated and if/when this happens the drink will be back.

Please leave us a comment below to tell us where you/your school stand on the flavored milk ban.  If you participate in the ban, how has it affected the school both from a financial and nutritional standpoint?