Chocolate Milk? Or Not? By Deb Glasser, MS, RD

What happens when schools stop serving chocolate milk in the cafeteria?

Will students stop drinking milk altogether or will they accept the change, albeit gradually, and eventually make the shift to drinking plain (white) milk?

These were some of the questions researchers tackled in Baltimore, Maryland as they looked closely at the impact of eliminating chocolate milk from cafeterias at several schools throughout the city. The results of their recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics measured student acceptance of plain (white) milk both the year the chocolate milk was removed and again two years later. 

The observational study assessed Kindergarten through 8th grade students and examined

1) how likely the students were to select unflavored milk and

2) how much of the eight-ounce carton was actually consumed.

 Over time, student selection of white milk did increase however the amount of milk consumed decreased slightly.  

Some study limitations to note: on several data gathering days, 100% fruit juice was offered (served) as a fruit component in addition to milk and students drank less milk on those days than on days when no juice was served. No surprise there! Additionally, the District made the decision to remove chocolate milk over the summer and no baseline data was gathered the previous school year. This makes it difficult to do an “apples to apples” comparison.

The upside to removing chocolate milk from cafeterias is that less sugar is consumed. We know the importance of decreased sugar intake and the contribution sweet beverage consumption has made to our country’s growing obesity epidemic and increase in Type II diabetes cases (I’m looking directly at you Frappuchino!”). The downside is that growing bodies depend on calcium, much of which comes from drinking milk, and milk consumption decreased when chocolate was no longer offered.

After the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 (which allowed the USDA to overhaul school meals to meet new nutrition standards), a reformulated, non-fat flavored milk with less added sugar replaced the previous product. There was NO drop in either milk selection or consumption when the reformulated product was introduced. Student acceptance of this lower fat, lower sugar flavored milk was excellent-because there was still some “flavor”. Perhaps one solution with the goal to reduce sugar intake while maintaining the calcium intake is to once again reformulate to an even lower sugar chocolate milk product.

There are potential costs and benefits to removing flavored milk from cafeterias. More research is needed to address students’ willingness to drink (after selecting) their white milk. Student behavior is far more complicated than just assuming that when there’s only one choice of milk offered, they’ll select it.

Let’s continue to educate students on the importance of making good food choices including loading their plates with veggies and fruit, choosing whole grains whenever possible (SNP makes that easy and delicious for our students!), and reducing their sugar consumption by choosing white milk.

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