Is Chocolate Milk the Real Culprit in Childhood Obesity?

The war against childhood obesity continues to rage on. First the culprit was too much fast food. Then we blamed video games for making our children more sedentary. Researchers have even linked a lack of sleep to higher risks of becoming overweight. And now, chocolate milk is on the chopping block. Even British chef, Jamie Oliver, has jumped on the bandwagon to blame flavored milk as a contributing factor to childhood obesity.

Many school districts are considering banning flavored milk in an effort to reduce the amount of sugar kids are consuming. Even though most schools serve fat-free chocolate milk, an eight ounce carton contains six more grams of sugar than an equal serving of low fat white milk. Even worse, some schools serve fat-free strawberry milk which has 13 more grams of sugar than the white milk.

The Boulder Valley School District in Colorado has already banned flavored milk and the second largest school district in the nation, Los Angeles Unified School District in California, is proposing to have flavored milk removed from its schools. Florida, which was also considering a statewide ban, backed off when they were asked to look at all food and beverages served at school with a high sugar content.

However, not everyone agrees that banning flavored milk in school will be a good nutritional move. Both parents and nutritionists line up on both sides of the argument. Critics of the plan point to that fact that 70% of milk consumed at school is flavored. Some districts which have already banned flavored milk experienced a 35% decrease in milk consumption. The theory was that if you removed flavored milk from the menu, kids would drink the white milk instead. However, that was not the reality. One district in West Virginia even reversed its decision and brought chocolate milk back at the urging of state officials.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, National Medical Association and School Nutrition Association have banded together to point out that the nutritional value of flavored milk offsets the harm of added sugar. They backed up their joint statement by citing studies that prove kids who drink fat-free, flavored milk are not heavier than non milk drinkers and they meet more of their nutritional needs. The fact is that milk, even flavored milk, contains nine essential nutrients such as calcium, protein and vitamin D.

I think most parents agree that schools could serve more nutritional lunches. Perhaps we should find a substitute for corn dogs or chicken tenders, instead of focusing on flavored milk. I especially take issue when I hear chocolate milk being compared to soda or candy. There is actually nutritional value in milk, but soda and candy do not offer the same benefits to make up for the extra sugar.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of obese kids ages 2 to 19 has almost tripled since 1980. Currently, about 17% or 12.5 million kids in the United States are obese.

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