A pilot study conducted by Cornell University researchers has found that removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias led to fewer milk sales and more wasted milk by students who did choose white milk. It also correlated with a decline in school lunch purchases.
Removing flavored milk from school cafeterias in an effort to reduce students’ caloric and sugar intake and reduce childhood obesity has led many school districts to limit or ban chocolate milk.
In a study of 11 elementary schools in Oregon, researchers found total daily milk sales declined 9.9 percent and discarded milk increased 29.4 percent. Eliminating chocolate milk was also associated with a 6.8 percent decrease in school lunch participation, the researchers stated.
The pilot study was funded by USDA and performed by researchers with the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Center.
Greg Miller, executive vice president of science and research for the National Dairy Council, said its finding that milk consumption dropped is what one would expect and mirrors other studies on flavored milk.
“Kids love flavored milk — take it out of the cafeteria, and milk consumption goes down,” he said.
While many school districts have limited or banned the sale of chocolate milk, “the predominant view of nutrition and medical researchers is that milk has nutrients essential for bone growth and development, leading other districts to take the position that any milk is better than no milk,” the researchers said.
Nutrition decisions should not be based on one specific nutrient, Miller said.
Flavored milk is a nutrient rich food with the same nine essential nutrients as white milk. Children who drink flavored milk have better quality diets, drink more milk, don’t have higher fat consumption, and have healthier weights than kids who don’t, he said.
“When flavored milk leaves the lunch room, good nutrition leaves with it,” he said
Flavored milk contributes only 3 percent of the added sugar and 2 percent of the calories to the diets of children 2-18 years of age, he said.
Limiting or banning nutrient-rich flavored milk in schools is unfortunate for the children and has unintended consequences. If people want to focus on sugar, they should focus on nutrient-poor foods, such as cake and candy, he said.
A study funded by MilpPep (Milk Processors Education Program) also found it can be difficult and expensive — about $4,600 per 100 students per school year — to replace the nutrients lost from decreased intake at school, he said.
The same study also showed when flavored milk was not offered on certain or all days of the week in 17 schools districts, there was a dramatic drop in milk consumption. It found a 26 percent drop in sales and an 11.4 percent increase in discarded milk, for a combined 37.4 decrease in consumption, he said.
Of the students who purchase lunches in the National School Lunch Program, two-thirds choose chocolate milk over white milk.
Removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias might reduce calorie and sugar consumption, but it might also lead students to take less milk overall, drink less and waste more and no longer purchase school lunches, the researchers said.
“Food service managers need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of eliminating chocolate milk … ,” they stated.