Banning chocolate milk from school can backfire

Banning chocolate milk from school can backfire

U.S. public schools are finding themselves in a bit of a pickle over a cafeteria item—milk, specifically the chocolate kind. For parents, it provides their kids much needed calcium, and for the kids it offers much needed good taste. In the past few years, however, parents concerned about obesity and sugar levels have protested this once-thought nutritious and delicious beverage and have requested that it not be served in school lunchrooms. Instead, a reformulated version was served with lower fat and more natural sugar.

So what would happen if chocolate milk was actually banned from pubic school cafeterias? A new study reveals surprising results.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE in April, found that although total milk sales in elementary schools decreased by 10 percent, students wasted 29 percent more white milk than before they swapped chocolate for white milk. The study also revealed that 7 percent stopped eating school lunches altogether.

Participants in the study included 11 Oregon elementary schools in one district. During one school year, skim and 1 percent fat milk were served instead of chocolate milk to grades K-5. According to the results, after the milk substitution, students consumed fewer calories and less sugar. However, they also consumed less protein and calcium.

Catherine LaBella, clinical dietitian at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., explains that chocolate milk is not all bad. “While I would not say that chocolate milk is necessarily the best dairy choice, for some kids it may be the only source of dairy in their diet. In spite of the added sugar, chocolate milk does contain the same nutrients found in skim or low-fat white milk; these kids will be missing out on a great source of protein and calcium,” she says.

Study co-author Brian Wansink recommended a less restrictive policy considering the nutritional costs. “There are other ways to encourage kids to select white milk without banning the chocolate. Make white milk appear more convenient and more normal to select. Two quick and easy solutions are: Put the white milk in the front of the cooler, and make sure that at least one-third to one-half of all the milk is white,” explained Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, N.Y.

LaBella adds that the way the nutritional aspect of milk is emphasized can help kids make healthy decisions as well. “Kids can be educated as to why they should choose white milk over chocolate milk and encouraged to think of chocolate milk more as a treat,” she says.

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  1. In grade school, when we walked home for lunch, we were given a morning milk break daily at about 10:00 am. The milk was delivered earlier and left in crates outside of the classroom door so our little half pints were warm and just starting to get that sour flavor by the time we were able to drink it. I was never a big fan of milk but this put me over the edge. My stomach would curdle at the thought of drinking milk, I held my nose and barely got it down. We did not have a chocolate option at the time.
    Then they invented PDQ, little chocolate pebbles that dissolved quickly in milk (unlike Nestles Quick which just lumps.) Once I started taking that to school, I drank my milk and never had a problem with obesity, probably had to do with bike riding, running, and exercising more than my thumbs. I never have developed a taste for milk and now I eat yogurt for calcium – plain – but I would never have had the calcium I needed if I had not been able to put chocolate powder in my milk as a child. We need to give kids options.

    • Love this and I agree, Milk Hater. Everything in moderation!

    • When I was a kid they did the milk breaks too. I don’t remember warm milk though. All the kids I hung around with ate tons of candy we bought from the local 5 and dime, plus ice cream and pop. None of us were overweight because we were riding our bikes everywhere, playing outdoor games and walking to school. Today kids sit and play video games in their free time. Not only are they becoming obese but their socialization skills are becoming dreadful.

  2. The notion of any one individual or body banning a beverage from a public school should offend the masses. What the hell is going on here?

    • It does seem a bit strange, doesn’t it Jefferson? I’m all for health, but we should also be able to exercise our freedom of choice.

  3. I don’t remember chocolate milk being an option when I was a kid. I do remember that there was one of my classmates who was allergic to milk, so he always got to drink orange juice during milk breaks. I was jealous!

  4. Kelly Jo Golson

    I love chocolate milk as do all of my kids.
    Chocolate milk is often given away at the finish line of distance runs these days – said to be one of the best things to restore the body following the miles.
    Everything in moderation – we aren’t given the kids a gallon – just one of those little cartons right?

    • Nikki Hopewell April 21, 2014 at 9:39 am · Reply

      I didn’t know that chocolate milk was a giveaway at race finish lines. If it’s good enough for a runner at a finish line, I can’t imagine what harm one little carton could do to a kid at lunchtime. Everything in moderation indeed!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.