The Great (Chocolate) Milk Debate
So where do you stand on a topic often facing school districts across the nation? Are you a chocolate or “flavored” fan, or do you like your child’s milk to be be unflavored? Often school districts feel pressure from parents and health professionals to rid school menus of flavored milks while other health officials, parents, and marketers are fighting to keep them!
Recent data from the USDA reports that flavored milk accounts for 66% of all milk sold in schools, and that consumption of milk as a beverage drops significantly when flavored milks have been pulled from the menu.
I asked a few friends across the country what they think, and what their school districts have done about this very subject. While no one I asked reported that flavored milk has been pulled, Chris in Virginia reported that her district had dropped it initially along with soda, but added it back this year in amended form. All flavored milk is fat free, and free of artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial growth hormones. Sales have surged! Her feeling is that milk as a beverage, flavored or not, has more nutritional value than a soda, so it should stay a choice. The “new” flavored milks add between 25-30 calories a serving more than skim milk, which she feels her daughter is not a big fan of.
Tracy who lives near Lancaster is not a fan of chocolate or other flavored milks, but admits that flavored milk is not likely the blame for childhood obesity. Another friend from Seattle answered her questionnaire with “kids need to learn to choose”, but that many “designer” milks-soy, rice, coconut have also shown up in a local school district there.
While it may seem a small in comparison to other issues facing schools, the battle over what food is available is one that only seems to get more heated. The pros and cons of chocolate milk has even been discussed on National Public Radio just recently. It is increasingly becoming a drink of choice for post workout recovery especially after endurance events. Some swear it speeds their muscle recovery as well as replaces their fluid and electrolyte loss, a “miracle” drink.
This much I know: milk provides many essential nutrients that are not found in soda, 100% juice, or water: calcium, protein, Vitamins A, D, B12 as well as phosphorus, riboflavin and potassium. Dairies have been reformulating to remove additives, colorings, and added syrups to make “better” products. Low fat or skim “flavored” milks have replaced the sugar, corn syrup laden artificially pink and brown milks of only a few years ago.
Obesity in children is because of many factors, only one of them being the beverages they choose. While we as parents expect schools to be responsible for presenting healthy choices, ultimately we and our children are the ones choosing what is consumed.
While it may not be a miracle drink (except maybe athletes), for some it may be simply a miracle to get their child to consume something nutritious in any way, so for me, it should remain a choice.
Laura Zurita is a registered dietitian and Montgomery County mom of a 6 year old. Her and her family enjoy reading, hiking and watching highlights of the Philadelphia Phillies in anticipation of the 2012 baseball season.