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May 16, 2014

Chocolate Milk: Off the School Lunch Menu in Connecticut?

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

By Elizabeth M Ward, MS, RD

In an effort to help combat childhood obesity, school districts across the country have been removing chocolate milk from lunch menus.  It appears the state of Connecticut is poised to join the fray.

Misdirected Persecution of a Nutritious Food

A bill under consideration by the state legislature bans milk with added sodium, which would effectively eliminate chocolate milk.  Like nearly all foods, plain milk contains naturally occurring sodium. Chocolate milk has a small amount of added sodium (from the cocoa), and it will be off the menu if the Connecticut measure passes.  

To most health professionals, including Jill Castle, MS, RD, Connecticut resident, mother of four, and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School  the vilification of chocolate milk is baffling, and potentially harmful.

"It's a case of misdirected prosecution," Castle says. "There is no evidence that chocolate milk in and of itself contributes to obesity or poor health in children."

Castle says milk of any kind is good for kids, and helps them fill in dietary gaps that play a key role in their growth and development.  According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, kids fail to get enough calcium, vitamin D, and potassium on a regular basis. For about 60 additional calories per eight ounce serving, chocolate milk supplies the same levels of calcium, vitamins A and D, potassium, and protein.

Kids Favor Chocolate Milk

There's little question that the Connecticut legislation that would ban chocolate milk is intended to protect children. However, it may have unintended consequences.

A recent Cornell University study found that when you remove chocolate milk as a choice at lunch, milk sales dropped by 8% and kids threw away 29% of the white milk they had purchased.  Seven percent of students stopped buying school lunch altogether.

Milk drinking among children has dropped markedly during the last 30 years, which may explain in part why children are missing out on the nutrients they need. Castle says removing incentives to drink milk, such as offering chocolate milk, are misdirected.

Our energy as concerned adults, health professionals, and educators is better spent helping kids eat a more balanced diet with less soda, energy drinks, and sports beverages, which, taken together, account for 46% of the added sugar kids and adults consume. 

Chocolate milk may have become an icon for what's wrong with how children eat, but it doesn't deserve a bad rap. The health benefits of chocolate milk far outweigh any potential harm.


Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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