Bypass the school ban on chocolate milk

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When we read this month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was proposing to ban chocolate strawberry milk from elementary and middle school cafeterias nationwide, we thought we were in for a food fight.

Indeed, no sooner had the proposal been released than it was lambasted as “overreach” by the Biden administration and an intrusion on parents’ rights to determine what is best for their children.

The goal of the USDA proposal, of course, is to combat childhood obesity, and yes, that is a concern. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 14.7 million young people in the United States between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese.

Some of this, experts say, is the basis of sugar consumption and that’s why the USDA has put an eye on chocolate milk consumption in schools – since flavored milks, strawberry included, contain a lot more sugar than 1% low fat white milk. milk.

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In fact, a cup of low-fat chocolate milk contains 25 grams of sugar — and that’s right up there with the 26 grams in a cup of Coca-Cola, experts say.

But we wondered if a total ban on chocolate milk would mean that students would refuse a transition to white milk – and this has happened according to previous studies.

And then what happens to the beneficial nutrients found in milk. A cup of chocolate milk contains 280 milligrams of calcium, or 21% of the recommended daily intake. It is the main source of calcium intake essential for bone growth. It is also rich in vitamin D, potassium and other essential nutrients.

By banning chocolate milk, is the USDA throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

To get a sense of this debate, we reached out to Stacey Tapp, communications and community engagement manager for the Racine Unified School District and asked what the drinking records were in our schools and what the district’s position was. on the ban.

Tapp told us, “During the RUSD lunch service, we offer 1% white and fat-free milk as well as fat-free chocolate milk. We find that about 80% of students have chocolate milk with their lunch. »

She said strawberry milk was randomly offered in previous years as a treat, but dairies did not produce it in 8 oz. boxes since the pandemic.

“Flavored milk is popular among students, so our concern would be that by eliminating the flavored milk option, we might see a reduction in milk consumption. We would like to see a requirement to reduce the sugar content in flavored milk,” Tapp said.

This seems to us to be a reasonable compromise.

And, in fact, more than a month ago, the International Dairy Foods Association announced an initiative to reduce added sugars in flavored milk by the 2025-26 school year. The IDFA said it could reduce added sugars in chocolate and other flavored milks by up to 10 grams per 8 ounces. service and that 37 milk producers – representing more than 90% of the school milk volume in the United States have volunteered for the initiative.

While the USDA’s chocolate milk ban has grabbed headlines, this IDFA proposal would hopefully seem to achieve USDA’s goals.

We have often argued here for compromises to avoid politically polarized actions. There seems a good chance here that the goal of reducing sugar in chocolate milk can be achieved without a total ban and we urge milk producers and the USDA to work towards this.

The ultimate test, of course, will be whether elementary and middle school students are receptive to a sweet chocolate milk. It might take some getting used to.

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