Chocolate Milk Pressure
The Los Angeles School District (LAUSD) has become the latest school system to ban flavored milk from the lunchroom.
Partially in thanks to food celebrity Jamie Oliver and in congruence with the example set by public school districts like Washington DC, LAUSD has decided the negative effects of these artificially sweetened beverages outweigh their nutritional benefits.
A Sugary Start To The Day
An unflavored serving of low-fat milk contains 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar, but chocolate and strawberry flavored milk have 24 grams and 28 grams of added sugar respectively. (The added sugar comes in the form of high fructose corn syrup.) This is as much sugar as found in Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, and other sugared drinks.
Soda has already been banned from most schools, so those who support the flavored milk ban argue that banning flavored milk is the logical next step to a healthier lunchroom.
Some schools serve flavored milk with school-sponsored breakfast, and if a student consumes a branded sugary cereal like Frosted Flakes or Raisin Bran with flavored milk and an orange juice, they are consuming about 60 grams of sugar before their classes even start. To provide some perspective, 60 grams is more than 1/4 cup.
Additionally, a study published in Pediatrics in 2010 tested the benefits of a high-sugar breakfast with a low-sugar breakfast and found that consuming so much sugar reduces the other nutritional benefits found in sugar cereals. Additionally, they found that children will eat a low-sugar meal if it is provided.
Teachable Moments In The Lunchroom
Milk consumption drops when flavored milks are removed from the lunchroom because children prefer the sweetened version. However, milk consumption rebounds after students are used to flavored milk again.
As flavored milks are usually sold to more schools than households, supporters of the flavored milk ban say that students will not miss chocolate or strawberry milk if there were never introduced to it in school in the first place. They argue that children will drink milk without the extreme amount of extra sugar, and if parents want their children to drink such a high sugar beverage that they can purchase it for them outside of the lunchroom.
Support also say that sugary beverages lead to behavioral issues in the classroom, childhood obesity, and other diseases like diabetes. Teaching children to pick healthy alternatives to dessert drinks can help establish lifelong healthy eating habits. Although there are many ways school meals can be improved, advocates say that removing this obvious offender is an important step in the right direction.
Milk Producers Speak Out
Those who oppose removing the flavored milk say the sugar is necessary for children to enjoy drinking milk and thus receive the calcium and other nutrients they need. Picky children may not get their required amounts of vitamins if their milk is not disguised by sugar.
No one is more vocal about keeping flavored milk in the lunchroom than the dairy industry, whose aggressive lobbying and campaigns like “Raise Your Hand For Chocolate Milk” and “2011 Refuel with Chocolate Milk Grassroots” insist that parents must allow the sugar so that their kids will get the vitamins they need.
The dairy industry lobbies with the breakfast cereal companies, which sometimes pay large rebates to schools to ensure their products will be available in the lunchroom.