Flavored milk stirs controversy in schools

In schools around the country, flavored milk is being phased out of schools because of its questioned nutrient value.

“Brevard County is not in favor of taking away flavored milk,” Brevard County Dietitian Specialist Lori Nelson said via email. “We have spoken on the state level in defense on flavored milk in schools.”

Health organizations such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that several milk products including flavored milk are important for children.

“The American Heart Association supports the positive role for added sugars to increase intake of nutrient rich foods,” Nelson said. “In the article ‘Dietary Sugar and Cardiovascular Health’ they stated that when sugars are added to products like flavored milk there are no adverse effects on weight.”

However, there are 11 grams of sugar in the skim and 1 percent white milk and 25 grams of sugar in the 0.5 percent strawberry and chocolate flavored milk. So, there is over two times as much sugar in the flavored milk as in white milk.

“I have about 10 [flavored milks] per week,” eighth-grader Deanna E. said.  I think it tastes like cotton candy, and I would be pretty mad if it went away.”

The American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Institute of Medicine encourage the consumption of flavored milk because it gives children the nutrients that they otherwise might not get.

“Consumption of [milk] products allows for a nutrient-rich diet and helps with academic performance, especially when consumed as part of a balanced breakfast,” Nelson said.

Calcium, magnesium, and potassium — three out of five essential nutrients children often lack — can be found in milk.

“As children become adolescents there is usually a decrease in milk intake because there is an increase in soft drinks,” Nelson said. “However, those that continue to drink what they were used to drinking as a child show good calcium intakes and do not resort to sugary beverages. It’s really important that good calcium intake continues also in adolescence because of adequate bone mass they are building.”

Since Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act last year, more attention is being focused on school food.

“It’s not all about what is served in schools, it’s the whole picture which includes home as much as it does school,” Nelson said. “What kids are eating or not eating at home and then physical activity contribute a big part in childhood obesity, not school lunch or flavored milk.”

Even though teenagers will get essential nutrients by drinking the flavored milk at school, they will also get two times as much sugar than if they drank white milk. But Nelson says the increased sugar intake is worth the tradeoff.

“As a registered dietitian I would rather see a high calcium intake to help build strong bones and teeth, even if that’s done with flavored milk, over someone not consuming enough dairy because they did not like the taste of unflavored,” Nelson said.

By Addie Steele

Editor’s note: Brevard Public Schools policy prohibits the use of middle-school students’ last names in internet-based coverage.