Update (1/20/12): My stance on this issue has since solidified. I fully support chocolate milk bans at schools. In short, children consume excessive amounts of sugars, and chocolate milk only contributes to that amount. It is important to consider the “view from 30,000 feet” and realize that fixing school lunch goes well beyond the chocolate milk issue, but this is an easy step we can take to lower added sugar intake in school cafeterias.
Over the past few days, the nutrition blogosphere has fervently discussed the latest controversy — the “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk” campaign.
Led by the Milk Processor Education Program and the National Dairy Council, the program aims to “keep chocolate milk on the menu in schools nationwide”, in light of “lunch advocates [who] are calling [to remove chocolate milk from the lunch line, a decision that could] cause more harm than good when it comes to children’s health.”
The repertoire of widgets, colorful handouts and downloadable documents make it clear that a significant amount of money has been invested in this campaign.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also a partnership with the National Football League and this slick promotional video that features Registered Dietitians and celeb-moms Angie Harmon and Rebecca Romijn vocalizing their support for keeping chocolate milk in schools.
So, what to make of this?
Nutrition professionals across the country have vastly different feelings on the matter.
One side of the debate is succinctly explained in Dr. Marion Nestle’s top-notch blog, Food Politics.
Dr. Nestle states:
“The rationale for the campaign? If you get rid of chocolate milk, kids won’t drink milk. You will deprive kids of the nutrients in milk and contribute to the “milk deficit.” After all, this rationale goes, chocolate milk is better than soda (Oops. Didn’t we just hear something like this relative to the Smart Choices fiasco?).”
She also adds that this “it’s all about the children!” campaign is about something else — profit.
Specifically, Dr. Nestle states, “schools represent sales of 460 million gallons of milk – more than 7% of total milk sales — [and slightly more than] half of flavored milk is sold in schools.”
Other nutritionists, however, see this campaign as one that takes the important step of “looking at the big picture.”
While they realize chocolate milk is not an ideal beverage, it is a better alternative than sodas or sugar-laden fruit drinks. If chocolate milk is the only way a child will drink milk, they argue, then it would be a true shame to have it removed from school cafeterias across the country.
I am absolutely torn.
As regular readers of Small Bites know, I have my issues with The Dairy Council. I find it troubling that, due to their large budget and forceful lobby, they have managed to convince an entire nation that the only way to get calcium in one’s diet is through dairy products.
Approximately three quarters of African Americans and Asian Americans are lactose intolerant; many of them are not aware that calcium is found in broccoli, bok choy, almonds, and chickpeas. Due to the Dairy Council’s influence, many educational pamphlets fail to mention non-dairy sources of calcium!
In fact, this campaign fails to mention that chocolate soymilk offers the exact same nutrients.
That said, chocolate milk is far from calcium-fortified junk.
Apart from the popular mineral, chocolate milk also offers potassium, magnesium, vitamin D (fortified), riboflavin, and vitamin B12. It is very different from a calcium-fortified Kool Aid drink.
A standard cafeteria-size carton of chocolate milk contains 12 grams (a tablespoon) of added sugar. That amounts to 48 more calories than non-flavored milk. I simply can’t muster much emotion over 48 extra calories (assuming, of course, that chocolate milk consumption is kept to one 8-ounce carton a day).
Similarly, 12 grams of added sugar are not a big deal in a diet that is otherwise not sugar-laden. Sadly, the average US teenager consumes six tablespoons of sugar on a daily basis!
So, in that sense, since any decrease in added sugar intake is positive, why not slash an entire tablespoon by getting rid of chocolate milk? Then again, why not focus on the nutrition-void, sugar-filled junk that is also available at school cafeterias?
By the way, what has been missing from a lot of the articles and blog posts I have read is this: a chocolate milk ban is absolutely meaningless if, during their lunch period, students can purchase a bottle of Snapple iced tea (added sugar count: 3 tablespoons!) from a vending machine.
While I very well may eventually take a firm stand either “for” or “against” keeping chocolate milk in schools, I am currently undecided.
For the time being, I want to open the floor for discussion.
What do you think? Is chocolate milk worth worrying about? Why or why not?