Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Should chocolate milk be banned in schools?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a rule change that would limit the availability of flavored milk in schools.
The shift, the USDA said, is being considered following a 2021 study that showed flavored milk to be the highest source of sugar in school lunch and breakfast programs.
“Leading sources of added sugars in the breakfasts consumed by children were sweetened cold cereals and condiments and toppings; leading sources of added sugars in children’s lunches were flavored skim milk and cake,” that study showed.
The debate over chocolate milk in schools has gone on for years, largely due to various health concerns. The Connecticut legislature even passed a bill to ban it in 2014, but the proposal was ultimately vetoed by thenGov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The USDA is considering two changes. The first would allow only high school students access to flavored milk.
“Elementary and middle school children (grades K-8) would be limited to fat-free and/or lowfat unflavored milk,” the USDA wrote.
The second option would be to “maintain the current standard, which allows all schools to offer fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, at school lunch and breakfast,” but limit the amount of sugar in flavored milk.
Linda York, a registered dietician at UConn Health, said that when she was in school, “I think most kids went for the chocolate milk versus the regular milk in middle school and in high school.”
“They know that children are just having too much added sugar in their diet,” York said of the USDA. “Of course, this can lead to obesity, which could lead to diabetes and other disease states.”
York said limiting added sugar for younger children might be an attempt to change preferences.
“They haven’t really established their taste preferences,” she said. “Maybe they would just get used to having regular milk, but if they’re used to having sugared milk then they’ll always want that, and if you have too much sugar, then you really have a hard time eating a balanced diet.”
The calcium in milk is important, York said, for children and adults. But, “if you’re going to also eat all that those sugared foods, you’ll be taking in too many calories, which could lead to diabetes and obesity.”
Childhood obesity is “a serious problem in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among children 2 to 17 years old, 19.7 percent are considered obese, though that is not distributed equally either by geography or demography.
Between 2017 and 2020, “Obesity prevalence was 12.7 percent among 2- to 5year-olds, 20.7 percent among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 22.2 percent among 12- to 19-year-olds,” the CDC wrote.
Hispanic children had the highest rates of obesity, 26.2 percent, according to the CDC, compared to 24.8 percent of Black children, 16.6 percent of white children, and 9 percent of Asian children.
According to a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called the State of Childhood Obesity, 17 percent of Connecticut children between 10 and 17 years old are considered obese, lower than the national average.
That 2014 bill in Connecticut would have prohibited “low-fat milk that is unflavored or fat-free milk that is flavored or unflavored that contains no artificial sweeteners, nonnutritive sweeteners or sugar alcohols, no added sodium and no more than four grams of sugar per ounce,” though the focus then was not sugar but sodium.
Though he vetoed the bill, Malloy acknowledged at the time that there were health concerns about processed milk.
“Unfortunately, all milk producers that sell milk to our public schools add some sodium to their nonfat chocolate milk product to counteract the bitterness caused by adding cocoa to the milk,” he wrote.
When asked this week what he thought about a proposal to reduce flavored milk in schools, Gov. Ned Lamont said, “I like chocolate milk. That seems a little mean-spirited to me.”