We just got off the phone with Tom Vilsack!
The Fooducate blog was honored to be invited to a first ever blogger conference call with U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack earlier today. The call was in celebration of the USDA joining as a partner in the “Fuel Up to Play 60” partnership between the National Dairy Council and the NFL.
The idea of the program is to educate and empower kids to make healthier food choices as well as exercise 60 minutes a day. Over 60,000 schools have signed up to the program so far.
This is a win-win for everyone involved. The star power of the NFL athletes is a huge magnet for kids who move their bodies more. And obviously the dairy council is happy because low-fat milk is getting pushed to the schools instead of other, less nutritious beverages.
And while we commend this shift from soda pop to milk, we take point at the “flavored milk” options that are sneaking in tons of sugar to kids through the back door. The most popular flavored milk is, of course, chocolate milk. It’s also a drink that Mr. Vilsack admitted that he loves, deferring a question about the sweetness by blogger Eddie Gehman Kohan of ObamaFoodorama.
Unfortunately, an 8 oz. single serve bottle of chocolate milk has THREE TEASPOONS of added sugar. While consuming this once a day will not have a huge caloric impact (3 teaspoons = 12 grams = 48 added calories), the uber-sweetness has an unwanted side effect – suddenly apples, pears, bananas, and even the chocolate milk prepared at home (milk+cocoa powder) don’t see so tasty anymore. They’re not sweet enough.
In the Q&A part of the call, I asked Secretary Vilsack why not work with the Dairy Council to move the manufacturers to lower sugar levels. The response from Jean Ragalie, the Executive Vice President of Health and Wellness at NDC, was :
- the sugar in chocolate milk is only 2% of added sugars consumed by kids, so it is insignificant. (Update – here is the exact data: Flavored milk accounts for less than 3.5 percent of added sugar intake in children ages 6-12 and less than 2 percent in teens. To put this in context, soft drinks, fruit drinks and tea provide a combined 31.5 percent of total added sugar intake for children ages 6-12 and 40 percent for teens according to NPD Nutrient Intake Database (2 years ending Feb, 2009))
- studies show that children drinking chocolate milk are not gaining any more weight than others, but are getting more milk in their bodies, which is important due to milk’s inherent nutrition.
- Lastly and most disturbing, Secretary Vilsack summed in a nutshell: Kids won’t drink chocolate milk unless it’s this sweet.
It’s a vicious cycle. The kids get hooked on super sweet tastes starting with their morning cereal, then their candy bars during recess, followed by chocolate milk that must be as sweet. And more sweet as the day winds down at home.
No wonder the fruit served at lunch alongside the chocolate milk tastes so bland.
We suggested in the past, and still do – NDC, USDA – please work together to “convince” manufacturers to reduce the sugar in their flavored milks. Build a voluntary incentive plan to have manufacturers remove half a teaspoon of sugar every school year for the next 3 years, and we promise to shut up about this matter.
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