Do your kids drink chocolate milk?
What would happen if one day you’d take away the chocolate, and leave them with just the milk? Would they continue drinking the plain milk, or would you need to switch to other sources of vitamins and minerals?
A few weeks ago, at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference, a study was published that examined this topic in 58 schools across the country. The research, funded by an affiliate of the National Dairy Council, reached a clear cut conclusion:
Milk Consumption In Schools Dropped Dramatically When Flavored Milk Options Not Offered
In the press release following the publication, experts are quoted saying “it was tragic to see all the nutrients go down the drain” and that milk is the cheapest most viable vehicle to provide children with so many nutrients…
While we won’t argue that milk is a great source of nutrients (there are other too, hard to believe!), we have a very hard time with the dichotomy that’s been set up here:
either FLAVORED milk or NO milk.
Every morning, my three children start their day with a warm cup of chocolate milk. We heat plain milk and then add a flat teaspoon of sweetened cocoa powder. Empirically, the additional flavor helps them drink up their milk compared to times when we don’t sweeten. But the amount of sugar we add is 2-3 grams (<1 teaspoon), not the 13 grams (over 3 teaspoons) that are added to “industrial” chocolate milk.
So why can’t the manufacturers do the same and offer a low-sugar flavored milk? They’re doing a great job at offering low-fat and non-fat milk. There’s no reason not to address the sugar issue as well.
And while they’re at it, how about removing Red #40, an artificial food dye found in the “strawberry” flavored milk? Europe requires products with this ingredient to place a warning label on the product stating “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”. (If any teacher is reading this blog, now you know why the kids are so wild after lunch break…)
We emailed these challenges to Greg Miller, PhD, Executive VP at the National Dairy Council. Here’s how they see things:
We understand your concerns and we both have the common goal of ensuring our nation’s children are as healthy as possible. NDC recognizes that many schools want to reduce sugar content in all their offerings and more than 90 industry-partner dairies across the U.S. have proactively reformulated flavored milk to be lower in both sugar and total calories, while maintaining the great taste that kids love. These new products aim for 150 calories or less and less than 25 grams of sugar, all while maintaining great taste, so that youth will drink it instead of throwing it away, which in essence is throwing away an effective way to get nine essential nutrients in one package.
When it comes to certified color additives such as Red No. 40, it is regulated by the FDA and has a history of safe use. The industry follows all FDA guidelines regarding the usage of certified color additives, and all products containing them are accurately labeled according to FDA guidelines. Here is some more information from the International Food and Information Council.
I understand that some parents get apprehensive about the prospect of any additional sugar in children’s diets, but let’s keep the tradeoff in perspective—it’s an efficient and effective way to ensure kids are getting nine essential nutrients. On average, the added sugars in flavored milk account for less than 2 percent of the total added sugars in American teens’ diets, while sodas and fruit drinks provide more than 50 percent.
The statistics make it seem like the added sugar is benign, but if kids are to drink 3 cups of milk a day, this adds up to 9 added teaspoons of sugar! If the best the industry can do is reformulate chocolate milk to include 3 teaspoons of sugar per an 8 fluid ounce serving, something else must be stopping it.
Could it be competitive pressure of the different milk beverage processors? Nobody wants to be the first to manufacture a low-sugar drink for fear that schools won’t buy it? If that’s the case, then a directive to all manufacturers to gradually and synchronously reduce sugar levels should work. We’re seeing a similar thing happening with salt reduction in a fiercely more competitive consumer market these days.
Or does the reason lie elsewhere? Perhaps the manufacturers realize that kids are simply addicted to sugar, and have figured out the optimal threshold is 3 added teaspoons. But even if that is the case, how about some leadership in helping this country battle the childhood obesity epidemic? Again, work together to substantially reduce the added sugar.
We did not get the answers we wanted from the Dairy Council, but will keep pushing this issue. There has to be a middle ground here.
By the way, Here’s an excellent take on the chocolate milk mistake by food sociologist Dina R. Rose, PhD, whose thought provoking blog It’s Not about Nutrition is easily one of the best resources for parents on the art & science of teaching kids to eat right.
What to do at the supermarket:
Flavor it yourself. Buy plain milk and a cocoa powder. Mix at home.