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Hemi Weingarten

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Sugar: The Unhealthy Side Of Chocolate Milk

Posted: 11/09/09 04:30 PM ET

The National Dairy Council is launching a new campaign today - Raise your Hands for Chocolate Milk. The gist of it:


  • Schools MUST keep chocolate milk available for children to choose at lunchtime.

  • Milk is a much better choice nutritionally than sodas or juice.

  • Chocolate milk has only 60 more calories than plain milk.

  • Kids love it and will therefore drink more milk.


While this sounds great, there's a problem not addressed: Children are consuming too many calories from sugar. The additional sugar in flavored milk can add up to an extra 5 pounds of body weight over the course of a school year, says chef Ann Cooper, Renegade Lunch Lady of Boulder, CO.

So is this new campaign justified?

What you need to know:

Few people would argue that drinking milk instead of soda pop is a bad choice. And anyone who has children knows that their attraction to sweet is like a magnetic force. So if adding some sugar and flavor is the vehicle to get children drinking milk, it makes sense that we all raise our hands for chocolate milk.

The question then becomes, how much added sugar?

Would you add over 3 teaspoons of sugar to your child's 8 oz cup of milk?

Probably not. But that's exactly the amount being added to kids' chocolate milk.

We asked Karen Kafer, RD, VP Health Partnerships at National Dairy Council, about all that added sugar. She responded that in market testing conducted by the milk manufacturers, the 3 added teaspoons seemed to be the magic number that got kids to drink the most milk. She did not disagree that less sugar would be better, but added that right now that's what manufacturers are selling because that's what kids like.

The problem for many parents is that once kids get used to sweet, it's hard to get them back to "un-sweet". At home they may be used to drinking plain milk, or very lightly sweetened milk at breakfast (flattened teaspoon of Nesquik anyone?). But once they start school and get a daily fix of super sweet chocolate milk, they'll demand the same at home.

So here's a challenge to the National Dairy Council - work with the processors of flavored milks to schools and get them ALL to agree to a gradual reduction in the sugar content of their products. Maybe not overnight, but in the course of a year or two, they can easily cut those 3 teaspoons of sugar down to one. Everyone wins -


  1. Children will be getting an even healthier product without even noticing a taste sacrifice

  2. Manufacturers won't lose market share because all of them will be taking this step at the same time

  3. The National Dairy Council will earn extra credit for promoting a holistic nutrition approach, not just milk


And one more request to the manufacturers - although chocolate milk has no artificial colorings, the strawberry milk does. Red 40 has been associated with hyperactivity in children and is being phased out in the UK. Please, please remove it from your products and use natural colors instead.

What to do at the supermarket:

As a matter of practicality, buying prepared chocolate milk is very convenient. However the Yoo-hoos of the world are extremely sweetened. One option is to mix it with regular milk to lower the sugar content. Another is to buy the powders or syrups and control how much you add to each glass of milk.

 

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