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Where Do You Stand on the Chocolate Milk Controversy?

4415_Raise-Your-Hand

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?

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8 Comments

  1. Kristina said on November 12th, 2009

    When I was in high school, already overweight but not obese, I put myself on a ‘diet’..

    It consisted of sugary cereal in the morning, a chocolate milk and a big (6 or 8 inch) chocolate chip cookie for lunch, whatever sweet I could find for after school snack, and my mother’s sensible dinner.

    Not exactly a weight loss regimen to be proud of, and not exactly effective either.

    I can’t remember if there was a vending machine serving soft drinks, there may have been. There *was* a salad bar, and there *were* hot foods served daily there, and I *could* have brought a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch. But I didn’t. It was my choice.

    The chocolate milk was probably the most nutritious thing I had between breakfast and dinner.

    I am not entirely sure chocolate milk should be the first thing we worry about when perusing the school lunch menu.

    shris

  2. KBellatti said on November 12th, 2009

    For crying out loud, it’s chocolate milk!!! There are more important things to debate and discuss–like how liberal schools have become, but I guess this article ties into that.

    So here’s my two copper Abraham Lincolns:

    Keep chocolate milk in schools because it’s one of the only delicious and nutritious yummyness left in liberal-run public schools. Kids already can’t even point at something on the wall without being sent to the principal’s office and being suspended from school.

    Some kids will not drink milk unless it’s chocolate, and some kids simply love chocolate milk. For f*ck’s sake, let’s not rob our kids of every childhood symbol.

  3. Corey said on November 12th, 2009

    I suppose the problem is keeping the intake to only 8oz a day. But kids drink chocolate milk at school, will they drink white milk at home? So here’s my take. Keep chocolate milk in schools if you want(Only the 8oz size, my highschool had much larger sizes available with 300 or more cals) and keep chocolate milk out of the home. Or keep chocolate milk in the home, but pack your childs lunch with white milk or another healthy drink and don’t give them money to purchase chocolate milk.

  4. Karen Kafer said on November 15th, 2009

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your post. As I’ve said before, I very much enjoy reading your blog and appreciate you sharing your opinions on dairy subjects.

    Obviously, as a registered dietitian working for the National Dairy Council, I am an advocate for the Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk campaign. As a health professional, I can assure you and your readers that our campaign is based upon peer-reviewed, published science which shows that children who drink white or flavored milk have better quality diets and do not have higher intakes of added sugar, fat or calories, and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers. You can read more about the science behind the campaign on our blog, The Dairy Report: http://www.thedairyreport.com/Pages/TheDairyReportPost.aspx?PostID=187

    I also wanted to provide some additional resources on some of the other issues you identified. NDC actually has a variety of publications that show nutrient-rich foods (including but not limited to dairy) are beneficial sources of calcium. We do emphasize that dairy foods contain higher amounts of calcium per serving than other foods and can therefore help meet calcium requirements. One example of a resource is the calcium counseling resource page of our Web site:

    http://www.nationaldairycouncil.org/NationalDairyCouncil/Nutrition/Nutrients/calciumCounselingPage1.htm

    With regard to soy beverage, I wanted to let you know that NDC has also acknowledged the varied differences between cow’s milk, almond, rice and soy beverage, which you can see in a chart on this fact sheet: http://www.nationaldairycouncil.org/NR/rdonlyres/DD3F7B12-8CAF-4B98-B6D1-C2FC4A0CE057/0/DairyFoodAndBoneHealth.pdf

    Last, as it relates to lactose intolerance, I wanted to share a new report by Nicklas et. al. (2009) that shows while African Americans appear to be disproportionally affected by lactose intolerance, earlier estimated prevalence rates may be inflated because they were based on tests for lactose maldigestion using greater amounts of lactose (50 gm in water) than is typically consumed from a glass of milk (12 gm). The abstract of this study can be found here: http://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/Abstract/2009/09000/Prevalence_of_Self_reported_Lactose_Intolerance_in.8.aspx

    Sincerely,

    Karen Kafer, RD
    National Dairy Council

  5. Katherine said on November 24th, 2009

    I’ve always disliked drinking milk (love other dairy products – cheese, yogurt, etc) so when I was in elementary school the only way my mom got me to drink it was with my bowl of Cheerios in the morning (and I generally left the excess in the bottom of the bowl rather than drinking it off) and by giving me a quarter to by one of the 8oz cartons of chocolate milk at school. I’m not saying that all children would stop having milk at school without chocolate milk, but I certainly would have.

  6. Milton Stokes, MPH RD CDN said on November 24th, 2009

    I am for chocolate milk! Felicia Stoler might be a “for it” person to interview too.

  7. Milton Stokes, MPH RD CDN said on November 24th, 2009

    Thought I’d share a link to a piece I did for NY Daily News: http://www.miltonstokes.com/pdfs/press_clip_11.pdf

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