Schools across the country want chocolate milk banned. The tasty drink is being blamed for the growing rate of obese children in America. As punishment, it is being pushed out of the cafeteria, never to be enjoyed in schools again. The only thing stopping the banishment might be moms. A recent vote on TodayMOMS shows that over 70% of voters don't think chocolate milk should be banned. But if chocolate milk is viewed by school districts as "soda in drag," as Ann Cooper, the director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado called it, should our kids really be drinking it?
Chocolate Milk vs. Soda
In the fight of the decade, we have chocolate milk versus soda. The two are comparable when it comes to grams of sugar, depending on the brand of course. To compare, Nestle Nesquik Low fat Chocolate Milk has 30 grams of sugar and A&W Root Beer has 31 grams.
When it comes to ingredients, however, soda usually contains at least some of the following: caffeine, carbonated water, phosphoric acid, and sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, acesulfame-k, or sucralose. Chocolate milk can contain high fructose corn syrup, but there are brands that don't. Milk provides vitamin D, phosphorus and calcium, and despite adding calories and sugar to milk, chocolate also adds antioxidants that regulate blood pressure.
The Obesity Epidemic
While no one can argue against the obesity epidemic in the U.S., who or what is to blame is definitely up for debate. Schools have been cutting back on recess time and gym classes for years. And the technological developments in video games have been drawing kids indoors by the masses. And dare I say that the food parents are feeding their children could be to blame? At home, children are fed pre-packaged cookies, fruit rollups, microwave dinners, and pre-packaged processed meals and side dishes, which all contain ingredients such as added sugar, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup. Just because a meal or snack is quick, doesn't make it good. It's just a quick way to make your kids unhealthy and overweight. Even Dr. Oz ran an entire episode surrounding childhood obesity as a form of child abuse. With all of these possible causes for obesity, is one chocolate milk a day really going to make a difference?
Jamie Oliver thinks so. The Food Revolution star and chef is on a mission to clean up the food in America's schools. Oliver says that when children drink one chocolate (or strawberry) milk each day at school, an extra 2 gallons of sugar is added to their diet each year. Shocking. All of this sugar puts stress on the pancreas as it is forced to produce more insulin, and can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
Many moms, however, say chocolate milk is not the problem. Harriet, mother of three, says kids will stop drinking milk altogether if the option for chocolate milk is removed. She says that her children's school offers both chocolate and strawberry milk as well as white milk and calcium-enriched juice. However, the school rarely serves dessert and the entire lunch menu abides by the revamped food pyramid with fruits and veggies provided in every meal. Harriet believes the hours of sedentary lifestyle are to blame for children being so overweight.
Karen, mother of four, agrees, saying that chocolate milk is better than soda, juice or no milk at all. When one of her local schools removed chocolate milk, many of the girls switched to water. She believes that since kids aren't getting enough calcium or vitamin D and will drink chocolate milk but not white milk, than chocolate milk it is.
When I first read about the removal of chocolate milk from schools, I was upset. My daughter desperately needs foods and beverages with added calories in order to maintain a regular weight because she has cystic fibrosis. So naturally, my "what about my child" defense went up. She needs chocolate milk to be available to her because every extra calorie makes a big difference in her health. However, I do see the point that Oliver and others are trying to make by removing chocolate milk from schools. To them, every little bit helps. Each small change in a child's diet can make a difference. But there are children, like mine, who live in the completely opposite reality in which every little bit extra helps. There must be a compromise.
Schools should definitely make efforts to change the way children are eating during the day. There shouldn't be vending machines in schools, and desserts should be limited to once a week. But parents should decide what their child will eat while at school and the menu options should be healthy and non-processed. In addition, recess and physical education should both remain a part of the school day to promote exercise.
Healthy adults grow from healthy children, and healthy habits start young. We are all products of our environments, and for young children that environment is limited. They spend most of their time with family and at school. It is at home and school that they learn manners, how to love, how to eat, and how to take care of themselves. Working together, parents and schools can create a plan to build healthier overall lifestyles for their children.