school milk debate: it doesn’t have to be black & white … nonetheless chocolate & white.

Chocolate milk.

Is it a powerful punch of nutrients in one pint of delicious energy drink, or every nutritionist’s worst nightmare? Well, one of my friends posted this article, “10 reasons for serving flavored milk in schools,” on her blog’s Facebook page, and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. My comment turned into almost a full-length blog post in itself, so I figured I would transfer my discussion here.

As a student with an animal/dairy science background, I agree with almost everything the article’s author, a registered dietician, had to say in support of flavored/chocolate milk. As the author writes, the United States Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, giving the Department of Agriculture more purview in controlling foods sold in cafeterias across the nation. Recently, there has been an increased emphasis on eliminating sugar from the American (kid’s) diet — with one significant culprit being the seemingly innocent, beloved chocolate milk.

I think this debate is fascinating, because both “sides” are “right” and “wrong” at the same time. While I understand that sugar is a major concern, I also do agree that in moderation the nutritional benefits of the drink outweigh the risks.

There are certainly ways to solve this problem without pitting kids against the government, or at least the dairy industry against government nutritionists and policymakers. Why not demand chocolate milk with lesser added sugars, without eliminating it completely? Why not consider consumer behavior, or psychological ways to deal with this issue? As Cornell University Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink demonstrates through some of his time-tested research, there are easy ways to do this:

There are other ways to encourage kids to select white milk without banning the chocolate. Make white milk appear more convenient and more normal to select. Two quick and easy solutions are: Put the white milk in the front of the cooler and make sure that at least 1/3 to 1/2 of all the milk is white.”

That’s simple, and doesn’t cost a dime to implement.

As Wansink’s recent research in several elementary schools in Oregon demonstrates, compromise may be the most worthwhile economic and nutritional investment:

Here’s the full study published on PLOS | ONE: “Chocolate Milk Consequences: A Pilot Study Evaluating the Consequences of Banning Chocolate Milk in School Cafeterias

But I digress: I think it’s also important to remember that the sugar in chocolate milk is still comparable to that in Chobani (Not to throw  it under the bus, but the USDA did recently decide to support a school lunch pilot program with Chobani Greek Yogurt in 12 states). Sugar is still sugar, regardless of where it comes from—though it does naturally occur in milk as none other than lactose.

For even more digression: It’s under these same premises that I get annoyed when the new school lunch guidelines require, for example, carrot sticks, but don’t allow for a small portion of dressing or dip. Of course there will exist wide disinterest from kids—or at least until there is a generation of parents who instill that behavior at a younger age than the first day of school…

This is not dissimilar to fellow Cornell University food marketing expert David Just’s statement on the New York State Court of Appeal’s recent decision to not reinstate New York City soda limiting laws proposed by Mayor Bloomberg :

“From the beginning this policy was based on a flawed understanding of behavioral science,” said Just. “People consume less when served less. This is true. But the opposite tends to happen when they are served less against their will. Then they seek out the opportunity to buy two sodas instead of one – or they overcompensate by drinking more when they get home or ordering dessert items.”

<end rant>

 

(Featured image via Click Rally Magazine)

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