Volume 82, Number 4 July/August 2011
Childhood overweight/obesity is a serious public health concern in the U.S. (1-4). In an effort to curb the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic, attention has focused on improving children’s diet choices, in particular increasing intake of nutrient-dense foods and decreasing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages that contribute to excess calories and provide few essential nutrients (1). Concern about calories and added sugars as components of individual foods and beverages, rather than focusing on a food’s total nutrient content or the total diet, has put low-fat and fat-free nutrient-dense flavored milk at risk of not being offered to children, especially in school meal programs. Some school districts, in response to local anti-obesity campaigns, food and parent advocates, or mass media reports of the flavored milk debate, have eliminated flavored milk in school meals (5).
With increased attention to the nation's childhood obesity epidemic, some school districts are eliminating flavored milk in school meals without consideration of potential unintended consequences related to children's nutrient intake and health. Flavored milk is white cow’s milk with flavoring (e.g., chocolate, strawberry) and a small amount of added sugars (6,7). Recently, flavored milks with less added sugars and fewer calories have become available (8). An example is fat-free chocolate milk providing 143 calories and 24 g of total sugars (i.e., 12 g of the naturally occurring sugar, lactose, and 12 g of added sugar such as sucrose) per 8-ounce serving.
Recommendations to eliminate children’s access to flavored milk in school meals may have been made without consideration of potential unintended consequences with respect to children’s nutrient intake and health, and the science supporting the nutritional benefits of flavored milk for children. While childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, many children are not consuming the recommended number of servings of nutrient-dense foods from the major food groups, thereby reducing their intake of nutrients essential for growth and development (1,2,9-12). It is critical that any intervention to help children achieve and maintain a healthy body weight be balanced with children’s needs for essential nutrients for growth and development.
This Digest reviews the state of children’s nutritional well-being; science supporting the nutritional benefits of consuming flavored milk for children; the negative impact of eliminating flavored milk in school meal programs on students’ milk intake and nutrient availability; a perspective on concerns related to flavored milk and the dairy industry’s commitment to reformulate flavored milks to contain less added sugars and fewer calories; and scientific and health organizations’ support for flavored milk.
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