A recent pilot study prepared by researchers at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab has found that offering skim milk in place of chocolate flavored milk during school lunch decreased total milk sales by 10% and increased milk waste by 29%.
The data was collected at 11 Oregon elementary schools where chocolate milk had been eliminated from cafeterias in effort to reduce added sugar intake.
"Members of the school district's PTA were adamantly opposed to offering chocolate milk in the cafeterias, claiming it was as bad as soda," says Andrew Hanks, PhD., one of the authors of the study. "While this policy does eliminate the added sugar in chocolate milk, it also introduces a new set of nutritional and economic consequences. Children typically don't choose foods for health, but rather for taste."
Students may even stop eating school meals because of the switch, Hanks says. The research estimates the ban may have been a factor in a 7% decrease in district's lunch program participation.
"This is probably not what parents wanted to see," he adds.
While students on average consumed less sugar and fewer calories after the milk substitution, they also consumed less protein and calcium, study authors Hanks, David Just and Brian Wansink found.
Wansink suggested that a better option, rather than removing chocolate milk altogether, may be to 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," he said.
Added sugar on the decline
According to the National Dairy Council, flavored milk contributes 3% of added sugars to kids’ diets versus sodas and fruit drinks, which account for close to half of the added sugar and deliver "much less, if any nutritional value."
NDC also says that on average, the flavored milk offered in schools today contains about 39 calories more than white milk, and the National Milk Producers Federation says that since 2006, the dairy industry has reduced sugar content in flavored milks by 40%.
The bottom line? Former Assistant Director of Nutrition Services at the Eugene, Oregon, school district Nicole Zammit said the decision to ban flavored milk should be considered carefully.
“Given that the role of the federal school meal program is to provide nutritious meals to students who may otherwise have no access to healthy foods, I wouldn’t recommend banning flavored milk unless you have a comprehensive plan in place to compensate for the lost nutrients when kids stop drinking milk altogether."
The study, Chocolate Milk Consequences: A Pilot Study Evaluating the Consequences of Banning Chocolate Milk in School Cafeterias, is published in the Journal PLOS One.