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USDA Considers Banning Flavored Milk in Elementary, Middle Schools

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The Department of Agriculture is considering a ban on flavored milk — including chocolate and strawberry — in elementary and middle schools when it adopts new standards aimed at curbing salts and sugars, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Supporters say the move will help lessen childhood obesity; opponents argue it will merely keep kids from drinking milk at all.

“We want to take a product that most kids like and that has nine essential nutrients in it and say, You can’t drink this, you have to drink plain’?” Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, asked the news outlet. “What are we trying to prove?”

Others worry about the added sugars in school meals.

“From a public-health perspective, it makes a lot of sense to try to limit the servings of these flavored milks because they do have quite a lot of added sugar,” Erica Lauren Kenney, a public-health and nutrition professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the news outlet.

The USDA, which proposed guidelines for school meals earlier this year, has held off on flavored milk — most of which is chocolate. But whether or not it’s banned for certain kids or available for everyone at school, flavored milk will have to comply with a new limit on added sugars, the Journal reported.

Meanwhile, the dairy industry is trying to ensure flavored milk remains on the school lunch menu.

According to the Journal, a group of 37 school milk processors, representing more than 90% of the U.S. school milk volume, has said it is committed to flavored milk options with no more than 10 grams of added sugars in each 8-ounce portion. That level is in line with the USDA’s new proposed limits, the outlet reported.

Jessica Gould, the director of nutrition services for Littleton Public Schools in Colorado, told the Journal that milk consumption “significantly decreased” during the pandemic, when there were problems getting it.

“Do we want kids to get the calcium, the protein, the additional nutrients that are part of milk? Because when we were only providing white milk, we did see a significant amount of students didn’t take milk in general,” she told the Journal.

Except for milk, the USDA guidelines, once finalized, will likely start a phase-in starting with the 2024-25 school year, the news outlet reported.

The decision will affect the roughly 30 million students in the government’s school-meals program as well as the dairy industry, which sells about $2 billion of milk to schools annually, the USDA says.

Under current guidelines, schools must serve at least two milk options, one of which must be plain milk, either fat-free or 1%. Schools may choose to also offer either fat-free or 1% flavored milk, but are not allowed to serve whole or 2% milk.

“We know taste and food preferences really do form early in life and stay with you,” Erin Hennessy, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told the Journal. “The more protective we can be of our children during those developmental windows is a good thing in the long run.”

But some researchers believe children ultimately will drink more plain milk if chocolate milk is not an option.

“Eventually kids get used to what’s there,” Marlene Schwartz, an author of the study and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health at the University of Connecticut, told the news outlet.

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