Chocolate milk could be banned from schools, USDA says. Here’s what pediatric nutritionists have to say about the drink.

chocolate milk at school

Is chocolate milk bad for children? Here’s what pediatric nutritionists have to say. (Illustration: Alex Cochran; Photo: Getty Images)

The US Department of Agriculture is considering a possible ban on flavored milk, including chocolate and strawberry, in middle and high schools. It is one of two proposals aimed at reducing the amount of added sugar children consume at school. (The other proposal would allow flavored and unflavored milk for all grades from Kindergarten through 12.)

But is chocolate milk really bad for kids? Here’s what pediatric nutritionists have to say about the flavored drink.

What are the concerns with chocolate milk?

The problem with chocolate milk mainly has to do with its sugar content. A 2021 analysis determined that flavored skim milk is the top source of added sugars in school meals.

Like any sugary beverage, consuming larger amounts of chocolate milk over time can contribute to obesity, as well as other health problems, such as an increased risk of diabetes, Beth Conlon, nutritionist and founder of From the Start Nutrition, told Yahoo Life. Consuming too many sugar-sweetened beverages can also lead to tooth decay.

The American Heart Association recommends that children ages 2 to 18 limit their intake of added sugar to less than 25 grams per day and drink no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages per week. While about 12 grams of sugar in a cup of chocolate milk comes from naturally occurring lactose, the other 10 to 13 grams is from added sugar.

Taking chocolate milk off the school menu may help reduce children’s overall sugar intake, but likely at the cost of children having less milk, which contains protein and calcium, as a study of 11 Oregon elementary schools found.

However, another study looking at a year-long ban on chocolate milk in middle and high schools showed a significant decrease in students’ added sugar consumption, but only a slight decline in milk intake — less than 30 grams per student. . The success of this ban is largely attributed to clearly explaining the change to students before it occurred.

What are the benefits of keeping chocolate milk in schools?

The USDA dietary guidelines state that children do not get enough calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium or fiber. “Milk, flavored and unflavored, provides four out of five of these nutrients,” Barbara Baron, a registered dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutrition, told Yahoo Life.

Conlon explains that chocolate milk can be a great way to help kids meet their protein and calcium needs. An eight-ounce serving of low-fat chocolate milk has about 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, including all the essential amino acids you can only get from food, and up to 30% of the daily calcium needs for children ages 4 to 18 years.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, less than 15% of teenage girls meet the recommended daily allowance of calcium, which is “an essential nutrient for children and teens for building strong bones and teeth,” Sarah Pflugradt, nutritionist and founder of Fueling Active Kids tells Yahoo Life.

Offering chocolate milk at school can encourage children to meet the recommended three dairy servings a day. “This can be especially important for kids who don’t get enough dairy at home,” says Conlon. “For kids who qualify for free lunch and breakfast, up to 50% of their nutrition can come from school.”

Pflugradt adds, “Let’s not forget how many children go through periods of picky eating and may not be getting a wide variety of foods that offer protein, calcium and vitamin D.” Chocolate milk can help fill these gaps in nutrition and support healthy growth during these developmental years.

Are some brands of chocolate milk better?

While most chocolate milk brands are nutritionally similar, some add nutrients that are specifically beneficial for growing children. Horizon Organic, for example, adds omega-3 DHA, which supports brain and eye health.

Since chocolate milk doesn’t have to be super sweet to taste good, Pflugradt recommends choosing a chocolate milk with little added sugar. An example is Fairlife chocolate milk, which offers 50% more protein and 50% less sugar compared to regular chocolate milk, including the artificial sweetener sucralose.

If there’s no added sugar, there’s likely an alternative sweetener, making it a personal decision to choose that brand, says Pflugradt.

Should chocolate milk be banned?

Overall, these pediatric nutritionists support the inclusion of chocolate milk in the diet of all school-aged children. “The National School Lunch Program is important and continually changing to help improve the diets of American children, but I feel the demonization of chocolate milk is misplaced,” says Pflugradt.

And, as Baron points out, “Low-fat flavored milk is a powerful nutrient pack that kids love.” Experts recommend limiting chocolate milk to 8 ounces instead. serving per day and being mindful of its overall added sugar content.

However, what may be more important, experts say, is being mindful of food messages to children to help them make informed choices and foster a healthy relationship with food as adults. Katie Shepherd, a registered dietitian and owner of Food Explorers, told Yahoo Life that labeling foods as good, bad, or unhealthy can lead to compulsive behaviors when a restricted food becomes available.

In short, says Shepherd, “When evaluating added sugar, look at the child’s diet as a whole, not just the drinks at school.”

Maxine Yeung is a board-certified nutritionist and health and wellness coach.

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