Milk skirmishes

Just how good is chocolate milk for schoolchildren?

by Kate Lunau

Sugary junk food or nutrition-packed snack? That question’s on a lot of minds as chocolate milk gets an image makeover: it’s now being promoted by the American dairy industry as a healthy choice for kids. In U.S. schools, flavoured milks (like chocolate or strawberry) account for about 70 per cent of all the milk kids drink. So, when concerns about obesity prompted some to take them off cafeteria menus, the industry was quick to respond: it rolled out a campaign, called “Raise your hand for chocolate milk,” including a petition, a Twitter feed, and slick ads with actress Rebecca Romijn. Like plain milk, flavoured milk offers nine essential nutrients, the campaign notes, “plus the taste-appeal kids go for.” While the chocolate kind has more sugar (roughly the same as a glass of orange juice), the campaign calls this an “acceptable trade-off,” noting that over half of all teens aren’t getting enough calcium, risking their bone health down the road. Taking flavoured milks out of schools could do more harm than good, the argument goes, encouraging kids to choose less nutritious drinks like soda.

In Canada, the debate is playing out in P.E.I., where parents are pushing for chocolate milk to be subsidized in school cafeterias, just as white milk is. Jennifer Taylor, an expert in childhood nutrition at the University of P.E.I., says only half of all kids there are drinking enough milk. Taylor, who heads the province’s Healthy Eating Alliance, supports subsidizing chocolate milk, even though some people react “like we’re recommending rum to children.” (In New Brunswick, both chocolate and plain milk are subsidized. P.E.I. has no plans to introduce a similar program for now, because the current budget won’t allow it.)

Adults could stand to benefit, too, says the Dairy Farmers of Canada, which promotes chocolate milk as a way for athletes to refuel: it replenishes electrolytes and carbohydrates, like a sports drink, and has protein, too. One U.S. study of male soccer players found that those who drank low-fat chocolate milk after training had less evidence of muscle damage than those who got a high-carb sports drink. In another study, Spanish researchers found that regular consumption of chocolate milk could reduce inflammation (but not as much as red wine).

Yet chocolate milk has its detractors, including Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa: he likened it to a “liquid chocolate bar” on his blog, Weighty Matters. “The sugar in chocolate milk is not negated by its nutrients,” he says. Beyond that, “there’s no calcium emergency in our society. The emergency is obesity.” Experts worry promoting chocolate milk could shape bad eating habits and send mixed messages to kids, who might come to expect a sugar rush with their healthy food. And, while those who gorge on junk food tend to cut calories later in the day to compensate, says Barry Popkin, an obesity expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when those extra calories come in a drink—juice, soda, or a Rolo-flavoured milkshake, which has a whopping 400 calories per 473-ml bottle—they won’t.

It’s true that kids might complain if chocolate milk is taken off the menu, but research suggests they’ll learn to cope. In the U.S., studies have shown that kids will eat low-sugar cereals, and drink white milk, when that’s what’s available. “If you give a kid the choice between regular milk and water,” says Popkin, “they’ll get enough regular milk.”




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Milk skirmishes

  1. Maybe if we get rid of this useless Milk Marketing Board, governments will not have to subsidize milk.
    There was a great article in the Post last week about the Milk Marketing Board and how they are screwing us consumers. Time to elimate ALL Marketing Boards! We consumers are overpaying for everything… dairy, chicken, beef, etc.

  2. I've recently found out that the BC Lions have fridges full of chocolate milk for their players at its training facility. Apparently it's a great drink after expending energy because of the sugar to replenish energy immediately, but it also has proteins and whatnot for longer term recovery.

  3. i definately support giving kids chocolate milk if they like it. i have one son who loves white milk, and will choose it over chocolate milk about 95% of the time, but another son who gags at the sight of white milk, and most other calcuim rich foods, give him a choice of water or white milk, it's water every time. but he is always more than willing to drink chocolate milk. if he didn't have that, he'd be consuming almost no calcium at all.

  4. this should be treated like any other food. have it in moderation. too much of anything, even white milk, is bad for you. too much water can kill you. there's absolutely no reason a healthy kid that gets a bit of exercise every day shouldn't be allowed a bit of chocolate milk at school. obviously if your kid has a problem with obesity, i'd limit it somewhat, but as a general rule, severely restricting kids from eating certain foods is only going to make them want it more, and may create food issues later on.

  5. Calcium comes in many other foods, not just milk! (where do you think Cows get the calcium? – and no, i'm not suggesting we eat grass!)

  6. Chocolate milk is now called *Chocolate Dairy Product* a very unappetizing name, but a delicious beverage.

  7. Strange thing about chocolate milk is that sometimes at the supermarket, chocolate milk may be on sale while the white stuff ain't. Shouldn't the two be at the same price?

  8. OK report Kate Lunau – Years ago dietary authorities told us that the chocolate actually hampered the body's ability to absorb the calcium in the milk rendering it useless from the calcium intake point of view. Does anyone know if that is accurate? Parents in the 50's and 60's treated chocolate milk like pop … a rare treat!

    The dairy lobby is a rather restricted by low price food policies on staples like plain milk but the optional sugared and flavoured, milk-like products can go as high as they like once the kids are hooked.

    Kids need as little sugar as possible, covering up the taste of real food is a great disservice catering to bad eating habits. Interesting challenge to junk food from Jamie Oliver in UK schools and workplaces people's tatstes can change when properly prepared food is experienced.

  9. My son is skinny and he loves chocolate milk..but he is also a very active boy. If he only sat home after school and watched TV and played video games…yes I will not be serving chocolate milk or let him take it to school.

  10. Throughout our lives, we have been reading and listening to concerns about what is good for us, and what is not. Research by various doctors and scientists with different answers to the same questions. I am 49 years old and recently, I had a scope test done on my heart (cardiac catheterization) only because I had a faint heart murmer all my life that was never checked out. They told me, the scope showed a completely healthy heart. Because of my job, I have to have a medical every 3 years, and I have remained in good health until this day. For 30 years now, I have been drinking 3-4 pots of coffee a day, and I always have a drink of chocolate milk everyday, since I was old enough to work and afford it. It's my own opinion, that it's not about whether something is fattening or greasy. It's all about QUANTITY. If you drank a gallon of chocolate milk and ate a greasy pizza for lunch and supper everyday, not to mention lack of activity, YES, you would eventually become very unhealthy. These days, kids won't walk home from school, then when they get there, they throw some pizza pops in to the microwave, everyday until they are gone, then plop themselves down on the computer…..You do the math

  11. So why don't they remove the sugar ? Sugar free choclate milk – what a concept

    • or perhaps just use less chocolate and less sugar! 1/2 chocolate milk and 1/2 white milk combined.
      It's still milk, still tastes like chocolate, but has less of the junk that kids don't need.

  12. Actually, I feel that some children drink too much milk, as it is. This is especially so for children who are already overweight. Many of the nutritional benefits of milk can be gained from eating vegetables, for instance. If your child is underactive, I would limit the amount of milk that he or she drinks.

  13. I agree with David – Time to eliminate ALL Marketing Boards!
    The Dairy industry has done a terrific job using public money to market their product as the sole source of calcium on earth. The govt should take away all the subsities and let the dairy industry compete on their own like every other industry.

  14. Humans in "civilized' ? countries are the only creatures on the planet that use the mild of another species to feed its young. Cows mild is designed to add at least six hundred pounds to the calf from birth. At that time the calf is weaned .Humans even insist that adults, especially seniors, need this product until death ,to strengten our bones! If bones are not strengthed by adulthood ,forget doing it with five glasses of milk a day. What nonsense! How did the population ever survive without the 'wisdom' of these 'block heads' Maybe we are the blockheads for falling for age old selling tricks. Have any of you given any thought to the amount of chemicals ,anti-biotics, steriods and other ingredients in that ''VERY WHOLESOME PRODUCT'
    What a lot of B.S. (Pun Intended).

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