Serving Flavored Milk in Schools
Serving Flavored Milk in Schools

Flavored milk in schools: Ban it or keep it?

Many school boards and PTAs are embroiled in discussions about whether to remove chocolate milk from cafeterias. On the surface, the argument against flavored milk is logical; in a time when about 20 percent of America's children and teenagers are obese, added sugar to anything is justifiably scrutinized.

But the allegation that flavored milk contributes to obesity is factually incorrect. The opposite is actually the case: milk drinkers, even those that consume flavored milk, tend to weigh less, not more. According to a study published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, kids who drank milk were less likely to be overweight. This finding holds true no matter which flavor of milk kids consumed.

No flavored milk, or no milk?

Schools that have removed flavored milk have seen a sharp decline in milk consumption, which is bad news for kids' nutrition since milk contains nine essential nutrients and three nutrients that American children tend to under-consume: calcium, potassium and vitamin D.

Chocolate MilkThe Milk Processors Education Program conducted a nationwide study to determine the impact of dropping flavored milk from school cafeterias. The study included 58 school districts, four of which are in California. The participating schools had independently decided to stop serving flavored milk.

The study found that total milk consumption dropped an average of 35 percent when flavored milk was eliminated. Consumption dropped because fewer students were selecting milk and more milk was thrown away. Schools saw a 23 percent drop in the amount of milk sold.

It was assumed that the removal of flavored milk would cause an initial decline in milk consumption followed by a fairly quick rise in plain milk consumption once students adapt. But the data tells a different story: two years after flavored milk was removed, consumption continued at the lower level.

Where's the calcium?

It’s a little known fact that nine out of ten girls and seven out of ten boys currently do not get enough calcium in their diets. With life expectancy on the rise in the U.S., osteoporosis has become of greater concern among older Americans. Food decisions that kids make today, will impact their future health later in life. And we're seeing consequences of lower bone mineral density early in life, as well: children and adolescents today are more likely to break a bone than their parents were.

Children drinking chocolate milkSome argue that the nutrients lost when kids stop drinking milk can be replaced by other food sources. But to replace all the nutrients from one serving of flavored milk, schools would need to provide two ounces of cheese, one medium egg, one cup of fortified orange juice and a half cantaloupe over the course of a week. That adds up to a lot of extra calories and cost!

Eliminating excess sugar from kids' diets is a worthwhile goal. The added sugar in flavored milk is miniscule (less than 3% of a kid's daily sugar intake)1. We need to place the focus on what makes the most difference to a child's overall health. Flavored milk offers a practical way of ensuring that kids get all the nutrients they need, even if it takes a few more grams of sugar to do it.

1 NHANES (2003-2006), Ages 2-18 years