LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chocolate milk has long been seen as the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, but the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic has a growing number of people wondering whether that’s wise.

With schools under increasing pressure to offer healthier food, the staple on children’s cafeteria trays has come under attack over the very ingredient that made it so popular— sugar.

Some school districts have gone as far as prohibiting flavored milk, and Florida considered a statewide ban in schools. Other districts have sought a middle ground by replacing flavored milks containing high-fructose corn syrup with versions containing sugar, Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, is the latest district to tackle the issue.

Superintendent John Deasy recently announced he would push this summer to remove chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus.

But nutritionists — and parents — are split over whether bans make sense, especially when about 70 percent of milk consumed in schools is flavored, mostly chocolate, according to the industry-backed Milk Processors Education Program.

Many, including the School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and National Medical Association, argue that the nutritional value of flavored low-fat or skim milk outweighs the harm of added sugar. Milk contains nine essential nutrients including calcium, vitamin D and protein.

A joint statement from those groups points to studies that show kids who drink fat-free, flavored milk meet more of their nutrient needs and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers.

“Chocolate milk has been unfairly pegged as one of the causes of obesity,” said Julie Buric, vice president of marketing for the Milk Processors Education Program.

Others note the nation’s child obesity epidemic and say flavored milk simply needs to go.

Eight ounces of white milk served in Los Angeles public schools contains 14 grams of natural sugar or lactose; fat-free chocolate milk has an extra six grams of sugar for a total of 20 grams, while fat-free strawberry milk has a total of 27 grams — the same as eight ounces of Coca-Cola.

“Chocolate milk is soda in drag,” said Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District in Louisville, Colo., which has banned flavored milk. “It works as a treat in homes, but it doesn’t belong in schools.”

Flavored milk is also a target of British TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has made revamping school food a signature cause.

For a segment to be aired on his “Food Revolution” TV show, he recently filled a school bus with white sand to represent the amount of sugar Los Angeles Unified school children consume weekly in flavored milk.

“If you have flavored milk, that’s candy,” he told The Associated Press.

Oliver cheered Deasy’s proposal to remove flavored milk from schools during a recent joint appearance on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” show.

If the school board adopts the ban, Los Angeles Unified would join districts including Washington and Berkeley, Calif.

But efforts by some other districts turned sour after children drank less milk. Milk consumption drops by 35 percent when flavored milks are removed, according to the Milk Processors Education Program.

Cabell County, W.Va., schools brought chocolate milk back at the recommendation of state officials, and Fairfax County, Va., did the same after its dairy provider came up with a version sweetened with beet sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup.

The Florida Board of Education also backed away from its proposed ban on chocolate milk after the state agricultural commissioner urged the board to look at all sugary food and beverages served in schools.

The Los Angeles district has worked with its dairy supplier on flavored versions using the sweetener Truvia and chicory, district spokesman Robert Alaniz said.

Cooper and others argued children will drink plain milk if that’s what’s offered.

“We’ve taught them to drink chocolate milk, so we can unteach them that,” Cooper said. “Our kids line up for milk.”

Boulder Valley hasn’t been barraged with complaints since removing chocolate milk two years ago, but it hasn’t tracked whether milk consumption has dropped, she said.

Parents line up on both sides of the issue.

Deborah Bellholt, a South Los Angeles mother, said none of her six children ranging from pre-school to high school age will drink plain milk. “By allowing kids flavored milk, they still get the calcium they need,” she said. “If not, they’d bypass it.”

But Mimi Bonetti, a suburban Los Angeles mother with two elementary school-age children who drink plain milk, said she gets angry that chocolate milk is portrayed as nutritious. Children can get calcium and other nutrients from other foods, she said.

“If you offer them the choice of chocolate or plain, of course they’re going to choose chocolate,” Bonetti said. “When you’re telling kids that drinking chocolate milk is a healthy choice, it’s sending the wrong message.”

Ask kids, and most vote for chocolate. Suburban Los Angeles seventh-grader Nacole Johnson said plain milk tastes yucky. If there were no chocolate milk, “I wouldn’t drink it,” she said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (13)
  1. Dee says:

    If you take away chocolate milk, my child will not drink milk at all. At least, my child can get some vitamins from chocolate milk!

    1. Who CARES?! says:

      Studies have shown that there are more vitamins and minerals in chocolate milk than there are in plain milk. Yes, there is more sugar but I think the pay off of more vitamins outweighs the sugar intake. Our school system is in crisis. Isn’t there something else more worthy of our time and money than CHOCOLATE MILK?

    2. Saber 1 says:

      The left wing idiots thinking they know whats best for us. Come on 2012.

  2. hank says:

    I grew up on basic whole milk. Unflavored and ice cold….no complaints and no added sugar. Children will drink milk if it’s not chocolate. And , big surprise, they don’t need cell phones for ANY reason. We train children to be fat ,fearful and dependant adults through unnecessary toys and junk food..

    1. Anony says:

      I agree with Hank, the only reason kids are obese is due to all those portable games they carry around with them. They just sit there playing for hours munchin on nothign else but junk food. If the parents would drop their own tech toys and spend more time with their kids at the park, hiking, playing around, kids wouldn’t be obesse. STOP blaming the schools and start taking responsability for your own actions.

      1. Who CARES?! says:

        Kids are obese because of THEIR PARENTS. Their parents are responsible for making sure their little bodies get the proper nutrients for healthy growth and development. The bottom line is: a lot of parents are just plain too lazy to parent the appropriate way.

  3. Nora says:

    Who shut up, Jaime. I hate plain milk, and the only way I’d get milk as a child was if it had chocolate in it. At least I got my millk. Have more fruits, vegetables and proteins, and some treats at school. Kids need it. Jaime should focus on his home country and teaching those kids about getting good denistry!

  4. Nora says:

    That was a typo – it should have said OH shut up, Jaime. Too bad there is no way to edit our comments here.

  5. Mary says:

    They can take chips, soft drinks, and candy bars out of the schools all they want but their first step should be to remove 7-11’s and AM/PM’s from being next to schools. I read this article and I can’t help but laugh. It is not the chocolate milk that is making our kids fat; it is the local stores they raid in the mornings before school and after school. I spend approximately $5.00 a day on my son for breakfast. I buy him Orange Juice, Home Fried (Yup – Fried) Potatoes, or Biscuits and Gravy. When I drop my son off at school, I know that he is fed well and has a full stomach. My son is 5’7 and weighs 170 pounds. We hike together (He is 16) and he lifts weights in his room. When I drop him off, I make a run to 7-11 everyday for a small coffee. I am absolutely amazed at the junk food these kids buy before school. I have seen kids pour out as much as $7.00 on junk food on one particular morning, which offer no vitamins whatsoever. On another occasion, a kid bought Hot Chocolate, 3 bags of chips, one pack of gum, and two bags of skittles. Kids are not getting fat at school – they are getting fat at home and unless the Government goes into their home to monitor was is being bought, these eating habits will never change. I am not against food stamps. I don’t think any kids should ever have to go hungry; however, the Government should (Just like they block men who received General Relief from gambling in Vegas with their G.R money) block junk food from being purchased with their food stamp cards.

  6. Daisy says:

    Get Sparkletts or some other bottled water company to donate their product or give it to LAUSD for a reduced amount – for the advertising. Heaven forbid parents should provide nutritious food or milk at home. No reason, food stamps (EBT) & WIC covers the basics & then some…

  7. Who CARES?! says:

    There is never a morning my kids leave the house without a proper breakfast. They either have pancakes, eggs and toast, crepes, oatmeal with raisins, or cereal. They wouldn’t eat that way on their own. It is because I am a PARENT that I must see to it that my children have full bellies to start their day. It is MY job to feed them well. I would be a FOOL to think that it’s anyone else’s responsibility, but unfortunately too many parents think it does belong to someone else.

  8. dew says:

    I am amazed at how many parents don’t see anything outside of your own homes. If you have ever worked in a school you would see that not all kids have healthful meals at home. There is a direct connection between healthful food without all the sugar and chemicals and higher test scores along with better behavior. If any of you have ever studied nutrition you would find that milk isn’t the best source of calcium anyway. Have some broccoli instead! Oh wait, I doubt that broccoli is subsidized.

  9. carrie says:

    Flavored milk has no reason to be in schools. If parents so desperately want their children to drink chocolate milk then provide it for them at home. The only choices of drinks at school should be water or low fat (regular) milk.

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