18.06.2024

Got chocolate milk? USDA could BAN the flavored drink in school cafeterias

Chocolate and strawberry milk could soon be no more for millions of elementary and middle school children in the United States.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering banning the school-cafeteria mainstay due to the drinks containing added sugars.

But experts told DailyMail.com that this measure could cause more harm than good.

‘There are a lot bigger nutrition issues to deal with,’ Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, author of Meals that Heal and co-host of the Happy Eating Podcast, told DailyMail.com.

Chocolate and strawberry milk have more added sugars than plain varieties, though they all contain similar amounts of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for growth and bone health

Chocolate and strawberry milk have more added sugars than plain varieties, though they all contain similar amounts of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for growth and bone health

In February, the USDA proposed updated guidelines for school meals, which require districts to limit the amount of sugar and salt in meals gradually.

The rules, which mark the first time sugar has been capped in these meals, focus on breakfast cereals, yogurt, desserts, and flavored milk.

Except for milk, the finalized guidelines are expected to be phased in over the next seven years, starting with the 2024-25 school year.

The agency cited a 2021 study published in the journal Nutrients in its reasoning for targeting milk. The study found that flavored skim milk was the top source of added sugars at school breakfasts and lunches.

The goal is to lower the risk of childhood obesity and reduce the likelihood of developing other long-term diseases, the USDA has stated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 14.7 million children ages 2 to 19 are obese.

However, many nutrition experts are critical of the proposal.

‘Yes, it has some sugar in it, but it’s also a very nutrient-dense beverage,’ Ms Williams said.

One school container of chocolate milk, for example, contains 159 calories and 18.2 grams of sugar.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children two to 18 years of age stick to a maximum of 25 grams per day, or six teaspoons.

From 2017 to 2018, children and young adults two to 19 years old consumed an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugars, according to the CDC.

For the last 70 years, the amount of kids and adults drinking milk has steadily declined. Data from the USDA suggests this decrease has been sharpest in the 2010s

For the last 70 years, the amount of kids and adults drinking milk has steadily declined. Data from the USDA suggests this decrease has been sharpest in the 2010s

However, milk, including the flavored varieties, is also packed with vital nutrients. One cup of chocolate milk, for example, has 280 milligrams of calcium, or 21 percent of the total daily recommended intake. It’s also rich in vitamin D and protein, all of which can help maintain bone health.

Dietitian Carolyn Williams said that banning flavored milks will not solve the childhood obesity crisis in the United States

‘Kids and teens are going through rapid periods of growth,’ Ms Williams said, which makes these nutrients even more crucial for them.

Milk is the main source of calcium for the majority of Americans, according to the USDA, though 90 percent don’t get enough dairy.

‘While people may not be getting sufficient levels, a lot of people aren’t getting near aren’t getting adequate amounts in on a daily basis,’ Ms Williams said.

However, Ms Williams said that eliminating flavored milk would only leave plain versions behind.

If kids don’t like plain milk, they’re missing out on bone-strengthening nutrients.

This is particularly true for the 21 million kids who receive free and reduced lunches in the US.

‘For some kids, breakfast and lunch are maybe the only two guaranteed meals a day, and if they just absolutely will not drink white milk, that means no milk consumption,’ Ms Williams said. ‘That’s not good.’

Milk consumption in the US has rapidly declined over the last several decades. The USDA found that the amount of people drinking it has fallen for more than 70 years, and during the 2010s, it declined at a faster rate than in each of the previous six decades.

‘I’d hate to see milk consumption go down any further,’ Ms Williams said.

Recent research has already shown how getting rid of chocolate and strawberry milk could make this decline even worse.

For example, a 2019 study of children in a Massachusetts school district found that when flavored milk was removed, the kids were less likely to drink milk at meals than at schools where flavored milk was still offered.

Just under 57 percent of children chose plain skim or 1 percent milk at schools without flavored options, while 94 percent of kids selected milk at schools where they had the choice between plain and flavored.

Additionally, a 2017 study of a small, urban school district in New England found that only 52 percent of students chose plain 1 percent of nonfat milk at lunch shortly after the district removed the chocolate flavor.

Two years later, however, 72 percent of students chose milk.

Eliminated flavored milk, Ms Williams said, won’t make kids choose low-sugar options.

Other sugary beverages, like fruit juices and soda, however, are on the rise.

One 2011 study found that from 1989 to 2008, calories from sugary drinks increased by 60 percent in kids ages 6 to 11, and the amount of kids consuming them rose from 79 percent to 91 percent.

‘The big difference is chocolate or strawberry milk has actual nutrients in it. With all those other beverages you’re really just getting a lot of empty calories,’ Ms Williams said.

Instead of eliminating flavored milks, Ms Williams recommended focusing on lowering the overall sugar content of them. She also suggested trying to add more fruits and vegetables to school cafeteria menus.

‘One eight-ounce carton of milk is not what is causing this obesity and health issue,’ Ms Williams said.

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