I have been trying since May 6, 2011 to get this letter published in one of the LA newspapers but was unsuccessful. Since today LA unified voted against chocolate milk in school lunches, I figured I can post it to my blog.
Here it is. Let me know what you think about the issue.
This is an open letter to Jamie Oliver and John Deasy, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and anyone else who thinks about things like chocolate milk in our schools. I’m a fourth generation California dairy farmer, a father, and a local school board member. I happen to agree with Jamie Oliver that there is too much sugar in chocolate milk. But I appeal to Jamie and the LAUSD to not throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water.” Now’s the time to use your clout and the national spotlight to help move dairy processors toward producing low-sugar flavored milk so that kids can still have access to all of the great nutritional benefits of milk.
I have no doubt that Jamie is a reasonable man who sincerely wants to help America in its fight against childhood obesity. I applaud him for his efforts. There are many causes behind this epidemic and I’m willing to consider all of them, including chocolate milk. However, it’s simplistic to demonize one food and ban it completely, especially a food that delivers so much nutrition. The good news is that when it comes to flavored milk there is a middle ground, and I hope Jamie is listening.
We face a conundrum here. In our land of plenty we have children who don’t get the recommended nutrients of importance for healthy growth. One of these nutrients is vitamin D, as reported in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient because it promotes calcium absorption that leads to healthy bones. Milk is the number one source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus in children’s diets.1 Chocolate milk represents, potentially, the last hope for parents trying to provide nutritious foods to their family without facing epic battles. Flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients as white milk – calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin.
In schools, low-fat chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice and kids drink less milk – and get fewer nutrients – when it’s taken away. Also, while dropping chocolate milk from the menus of children who have healthy diets may be fine, for many children this one serving of chocolate milk at school is the most nutritious food they consume all day. It’s sad, but true.
The dairy industry has been working to develop a “smarter” chocolate milk. We’ve done this because leading health and nutrition organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize the valuable role of flavored milk in the diets of American children.
The “smarter” chocolate milk I refer to is sweetened with stevia, a 100% natural zero calorie sweetener. I’ve tasted a version of this chocolate milk and it’s great. Each serving has 71% less added sugar, 50 fewer calories, 13 grams fewer carbohydrates and 10 grams fewer total sugars than traditional chocolate milk while providing the same amount of calcium, vitamin D and protein.
There’s a precedent for the success of such a program. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by switching chocolate milk in New York schools from whole milk to low-fat milk, 5,960 fewer calories and 619 fewer grams of fat were served to children in 2009 versus 2004. In addition, milk sales actually increased, showing that the students found the change acceptable.
Dairy farmers understand the problem with traditional chocolate milk and we’ve been trying for years to encourage processors to produce lower sugar chocolate milk. Now that solutions are available, it’s time to move.
Let’s get serious about working together to help our children. I implore Jamie Oliver and John Deasy to sit down with me to talk about this exciting new option in chocolate milk. I believe we have a solution where everyone can be happy.
Thanks for your consideration,
1. Murphy M, Douglass J, Latulippe M, Barr S, Johnson R, Frye C.
Beverages as a source of energy and nutrients in diets of children and
adolescents. The FASEB Journal 2005; A434,275.4.