First-graders and Big Ag agree: More chocolate milk!

by Ed Bruske, via Grist.org,

Milk: It does a body sort-of good. Photo: a little tuneD.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown says he’s in possession of “research” conducted by a first-grade pupil that convinces him schools in the nation’s capital should bring back chocolate milk.

Brown made the remarks in an animated exchange last week with Kaya Henderson during hearings to consider her confirmation as schools chancellor. Brown said he was impressed by the nutritional information on flavored milk the first-grader had amassed, but more likely, Brown was tagged by the long arm of the dairy industry, which relentlessly pursues efforts to keep flavored milk in schools to offset decades of decline in sales of plain milk. As one of a few major school districts to ditch chocolate milk, the District of Columbia has become a crown jewel for activists aiming to topple flavored milk’s rule in the nation’s lunch rooms. Brown parroted the dairy industry line that kids won’t drink milk unless it’s tarted up with sugar, and will collapse in a heap of osteoporosis and rickets without it.

So how does a 6-year-old dictate school food policy in the nation’s capital? Here’s the transcript from last Thursday’s hearing:

Brown: This is from our youth hearing, a first-grader, and he made sense. And I want him to know to get his question in. We have the Healthy Schools Act. And we all know we want everyone to eat healthy. And I’m all supportive of that. But he had a survey of about I think 100 and something students that he had spoken with and I did my own independent survey of a couple of graduation ceremonies I attended and I come to find out that most students agree. They want to know why they can’t have chocolate milk in the schools. They said they’re getting juices that have more sugar than chocolate milk that has protein and less sugar. And their question to you was to say that it’s not because it’s not part of the Healthy [Schools] Act but because the schools just don’t offer it. And it’s wrong that the schools don’t give them a choice to have chocolate milk anymore. And I want to know can you commit to make sure that we have chocolate milk back in our elementary schools. Because they made an argument that it has protein and calcium and is better than some of the juices they’re getting inside the school now.

Henderson: I got a call from the milk producers of America telling me that research effectively says that if kids don’t drink chocolate milk, they won’t drink milk. I’m happy to work with my food services department on it.

Brown: So we’re going to get chocolate milk back into schools?

Henderson: I will work on it. I mean, here’s the thing, right? We didn’t make that decision lightly. There was a reason.

Brown: I know. I’m not saying …

Henderson: I’m willing to reopen the conversation about chocolate milk.

Brown: We reopened it already. You called and you talked to the milk people and …

Henderson: The milk people called me. That’s the lobbying people [laughs].

Brown: The first-grader came and he did the study and it said that most kids aren’t drinking milk at all now. They’re drinking more juices with more sugar and they’re more inclined at a young age to drink chocolate milk.

Henderson: I’ll talk to my people. Our priority is to have our kids drinking milk.

Brown: Chocolate milk?

Henderson: Why do you all try to get me to get up here and …

Brown: This is an interview, right? We asked you a question and we want to know what you’re committing to.

Henderson: Until I talk to my food service experts, I can’t make that commitment.

Brown: Is anyone here from …

Henderson: No, food services is not here.

Brown: Chocolate milk. Kids won’t drink milk unless it’s chocolate. We want our youth to know when they come to testify, they sit all day long, and he put an incredible amount of work into some of this research and I went to two elementary schools and spoke at their promotional exercises—graduations—and I asked them about chocolate milk and, yes, they want chocolate milk.

Henderson: I’m on it Mr. Chairman.

Brown: Thank you.

Brown’s remarks came as members of the school board in Los Angeles—the nation’s second-largest school district—were voting to eliminate chocolate, strawberry, and other flavored milk as part of that city’s battle against childhood obesity. Schools in Berkeley, Boulder, Minneapolis, and elsewhere also have sworn off flavored milk because of the added sugar it contains. D.C. school officials made the move with little fanfare nearly a year ago after appointing a new food services director who has aggressively redesigned the menu, removing many of the processed and sugary items that had been served daily to the district’s 45,000 students. Nearby Fairfax County, Va., also removed chocolate milk, but then reinstated it to quell protests.

A report by the Institute of Medicine last year found that most Americans do not lack calcium or Vitamin D, refuting claims by the dairy industry that children suffer from a “calcium crisis.” School food guru Ann Cooper, who refers to flavored milk as “soda in drag,” has recently said, “we don’t have a calcium crisis, we have an obesity crisis.” In fact, kids in D.C. rank eighth in the nation for being overweight or obese.

The average eight-ounce carton of chocolate milk contains 14 grams—or 3.5 teaspoons—of added sugar, usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. The American Heart Association has warned that children on average now consume an astonishing 21 percent of their daily calories in the form of sugar, and as a result exhibit common markers for heart disease, such as low HDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, and high LDL cholesterol. Robert Ludwig, an expert in pediatric obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, has called sugar “poison” because of its link to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease risk. Ludwig cites a worldwide epidemic of obese infants and fatty liver disorder in children.

No less an authority than Walter Willet, head of the nutrition department at Harvard University, has warned that children should not be served flavored milk in school and that milk itself “is not an essential nutrient.”

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