You’d think the promise to ban a sugary drink from the Los Angeles Unified School District would have made the new superintendent, John Deasy, a hero among parents and health advocates. But it didn’t. Instead, he’s being accused of compromising good child nutrition. And giving children fewer options.
It’s not soda or sports drinks that we’re talking about. It’s milk — specifically, chocolate- and strawberry flavored milk, the latter of which has the same amount of sugar as an 8-ounce can of Coke.
People in favor of the ban say all that added sugar is bad for teeth and bodies. It makes kids fat and ups their risk for diabetes. People opposed to the ban say not offering the flavored stuff on school lunch menus means kids won’t drink any milk at all, causing them to lose out on important nutrients like calcium, Vitamin D and protein.
It’s true: studies of districts that have pulled flavored milk from school lunch menus show a marked decrease in the amount of milk consumed — 35 percent according to the Milk Processors Education Program (which is funded by American Milk Producers).
Several districts that have banned flavored milks became concerned about the drop in consumption. So they either brought back the stand-by chocolate and strawberry that they had offered before or they chose flavored milks that were sweetened with something besides high fructose corn syrup.
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver, who’s trying to up the health profile of cafeteria food in the LAUSD, applauded Deasy’s promised ban saying flavored milk is like candy.
My problem with flavored milk is that it not only contains way too much sugar, but it also tastes way too sweet. I can only imagine how a super-sweetened milk resets one’s tastes. I can imagine a cupcake tasting bland after a shot or two of school chocolate milk.
I wonder why milk producers put so much sugar in flavored milks. I understand what it is that the sweetness is masking — milk is not my favorite drink and I understand that milky taste that kids don’t care for. But it doesn’t take a lot of fake chocolate or fake strawberry and sugar to cover it up — to make skim or 1 percent milk more palatable for kids raised on juice, soda, etc. Have producers ever considered cutting back on sugar? Milk has sugar naturally — does so much extra have to be added to make it taste strawberry-ish?
I also think people rely too heavily on milk as a conduit for calcium. There’s kind of an overstatement about the benefits of milk. Yes, growing kids should have calcium and Vitamin D, which is added to milk. But they can get those vitamins in other foods. I don’t think rotten teeth and weight problems are the right kind of trade-off.
LAUSD’s John Deasy could fight the ban-haters by saying that they’ll also offer more nutrient dense foods along with the plain milk (that, presumably, 35 percent of the once flavored-milk drinkers will refuse to drink). Sure, some will refuse that, too. But we have to start somewhere.
We need to stop worrying that our kids are going to starve if we don’t offer them junk to eat and drink. Just like they’re programmed to nag us for more and more sugary treats, they’re programmed to survive. They’ll be fine without chocolate milk.
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