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Commentary: We are asking the wrong questions about flavored milk

Guest contributor | October 14, 2016

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ChocolateMilkBy Brent Walmsley

I’d like to respond to the upcoming LAUSD board vote regarding a return of flavored milk at targeted LAUSD pilot schools to study if there will be a decrease in waste.

At the moment, there is a lobby attempting to bring sugar-infused (flavored) milk back into schools. The arguments to do this have largely revolved around waste, but they don’t consider the health implications of children.

Over the last thirty years, childhood obesity has more than doubled and quadrupled in adolescents. Allow me to paint for you a similar scenario. If schools reported there were a high number of apples being thrown away, would we solve this problem by replacing those nutritious apples with candy apples? That would be unwise, don’t you think? Well, that is exactly what we are talking about when we discuss sugar-infused milk. 

The American Heart Association has recently joined the World Health Organization in recommending that children consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. An 8 oz. serving of chocolate milk is 22 grams (11 of those grams are from added sugar), so if a child has two servings a day, that’s nearly the WHO’s recommended limit at 22 grams of added sugar, and 44 grams in total!  Let’s not forget a student can be served milk up to four times per day at school (breakfast, nutrition or recess, lunch, and during after school programming).   

Perhaps instead we should ask some other questions: Should we push milk on kids if they don’t like it? Do they need it twice (or more) per day? Is this teaching children that adding sugar is the best way to get them to consume things? Are drinking fountains and fresh water readily available for kids in the cafeteria, and if not, why not? 

There are a lot of questions we should be asking about why children are throwing away good food, but I find it hard to believe that any parents or educators believe the answer is to infuse sugar.

If the purpose of school lunches is to serve exactly what we know children will consume despite the health impact, we could simply serve fast food and soda. If the purpose is to help kids develop wise nutrition habits and become healthy citizens, then loading milk with sugar so they will not throw it away is not a solution. 

Brent Walmsley is a former LAUSD teacher and is the founder of SugarWatch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving community health and wellness through information about the impact of sugar on health, creating healthier opportunities for students and communities, and advocating for improved policies related to public health and nutrition.  

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