School milk consumption falls after flavors cut

by Jeff Gelski
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DALLAS — Milk consumption dropped 35% on average in 58 schools that removed or limited flavored milk options in a study sponsored by the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP). Prime Consulting Group conducted the study. Doug Adams, president of Prime, gave details on the study Sept. 14 at the International Dairy Show in Dallas.

While removing flavored milk may cut down on sugar intake among students, the removal also may lead to complications in adding menu items to replace nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, in the flavored milk, he said. The added menu items may lead to increased costs for school districts and students consuming more fat and calories when compared to menus with flavored milk.

Prime Consulting Group found 58 schools in Colorado, Texas and California who already had eliminated or restricted flavors, Mr. Adams said.

“We went to people who wanted this to work, who wanted to restrict flavors,” he said.

The study took place from October to December of 2009 and involved weighing milk left in discarded cartons. Milk consumption declined in all 58 schools, ranging from 18% to 43%. Forty schools were in a second year of a limited or no flavors policy. Students at those schools consumed 37% less milk in year two on average during days flavored milk was not available.

The study did not evaluate how dropping flavored milk affected the consumption of other beverages such as water and juice at school lunches.

Proponents of dropping flavored milk argue it adds too much sugar to children’s diets. Mr. Adams said he has heard people criticize flavored milk, even calling it “soda in drag.”

Mr. Adams said flavored milk in schools has improved nutritionally and now 94% of it is either fat-free or 1% fat. The average number of calories in flavored milk at schools dropped to 154 calories per serving in the 2009-10 school year, which was down more than 7% from 165.8 calories per serving in 2006-07. All milk at schools combined, including flavored milk and white milk, averaged out to 140 calories per serving in 2009-10. Flavored milk, just like white milk, adds the essential nutrients calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin, protein, vitamin B12, potassium, vitamin A and niacin.

Prime Consulting Group examined ways to add back in the appropriate amounts of nutrients to replace the nutrients lost due to milk consumption declines when flavored milk is left out of school lunches. Researchers found it would take three or four items to replace the nutrients. For example, in one scenario orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D, sweet potato wedges and 2 oz of mozzarella cheese sticks would replace the nutrients.

In all the scenarios, the replacement items would lead to a reduction in sugar intake, ranging from 15 grams to 28 grams per student per week, but they also would lead to an overall increase in calories and fat. Depending on the replacement items scenario, costs would increase $2,200 to $4,600 per 100 students per year.

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