USDA Proposal to Ban Chocolate Milk in Schools

Chocolate milk, a favorite school lunch staple for decades, is in danger. In fact, Washington, DC, and San Francisco have already eliminated flavored milks from school cafeteria lunch options. This policy shift was proposed in February 2023 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and it has divided schools and parents alike regarding what is in the best interest of young people. The USDA proposed two plans to limit chocolate and other flavored milks in school cafeterias. Both of which can be found on the USDA website linked below.

“Alternative A” – the first of two proposed ideas from the USDA – shares that beginning in the 2025-26 school year all elementary and middle school children (kindergarten through eighth grade) would only be offered fat-free and/or low-fat unflavored milk. High school students (ninth through twelfth grade) would still be given the option to drink fat-free and low-fat flavored milk with their cafeteria lunches. As this is currently a proposal, USDA is seeking public input on whether flavored milk should be offered to children in grades six through eight as well, which would result in kindergarten through sixth grade drinking unflavored milk. All listed scenarios would require that flavored milk options contain limited sugars, as the sugar content is USDA’s main concern.

“Alternative B” – the second proposed plan from the USDA – shares that schools would maintain their current practices of serving fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, during breakfast and lunch mealtimes. The only required change would be a reduced amount of added sugars to flavored milk options.

Alleged Contribution to Childhood Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 20 percent of children in the United States are affected by childhood obesity. The USDA is using childhood obesity as its main argument for removing flavored milks from public school meal options due to sugar content. The USDA came to this decision after a 2021 study by Mary Kay Fox, Elizabeth C. Gearan, and Colin Schwartz. The study showed that flavored milks had the highest sugar content out of all the options offered in school cafeterias. This held true for both the food and drink selections.

This proposed “chocolate milk ban” is leaving many parents with one big question: is attempting to solve a problem that affects about one-fifth of students worth taking away the many benefits milk has to offer to all students?

Both the short answer and the long answer to that question are “no.” The benefits to children drinking milk, even favored milk, outweigh the potential downsides. Milk itself is a crucial source of 13 essential nutrients for childhood health and growth. These include calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), cobalamin (B12), iodine, potassium, selenium and zinc.

Michael Dykes, D.V.M. and International Dairy Foods Association (IFDA) CEO and President made the following public statement on this topic:

“The Healthy School Milk Commitment goes above and beyond federal nutrition guidelines, ensuring that all children in grades K-12 continue to have access to the milk they enjoy with fewer calories and less added sugar,” said Dykes. “School meals are incredibly important to the health and welfare of our children, and milk is a central building block in school nutrition programs. Milk is the leading source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium for American children ages 2 to 18, and that is why milk processors continue to step up by providing wholesome, healthy, and nutritious white milk and flavored milk options with 13 essential nutrients that students will consume.”

In addition to the 13 essential nutrients that can be found in all forms of milk, the IDFA released research showing only four percent of added sugars in the diets of children is contributed by milk. None of that sugar is associated with an increased body mass index in children 2 to 18 years old.

Potential Milk Ban Has Generated Opposition

Three of the biggest critics of the proposed “chocolate milk ban” are parents, educators and the dairy industry, who are likely to have the greatest insight into the adverse impact of this ban on American children.

A Morning Consult Poll of more than 500 parents of school aged children conducted by the IDFA in March of 2023 showed that 90 percent of parents believe flavored milks should remain an option in school cafeterias. This aligns with a poll conducted in October 2022 showing 84 percent of parents had the same opinion. In fact, the data from these two polls show that the popularity of flavored milks in school cafeterias among parents is growing, not decreasing. This contradicts the USDA position.

Educators are among the critics of this USDA proposal. The director of nutrition services for Littleton Public Schools in Colorado shared the district’s dislike of USDA’s proposal with the New York Post. The director told The Post most students will lose the benefits milk has to offer by not drinking any without the flavored milk option. This is because they prefer flavored milk and would opt out of drinking any milk if flavored options are not available.

In addition to parents and educators, the dairy industry is beginning to speak out against the ban. Major players in the dairy industry, including the IDFA and the American Dairy Association (ADA), argue that the loss of benefits to children from not consuming essential nutrients in flavored milk is greater than the risk of allowing them to drink it.

Milk Waste

A consequence of removing flavored milk in school cafeterias is food waste. The USDA projects food waste in the U.S. accounts for an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the total food supply. Banning chocolate milk would contribute to that volume.

A study conducted at 11 Oregon Elementary schools where flavored milk was removed from the cafeteria illustrates the point. It was determined students wasted 40.9 percent of milk that they grabbed when they were only offered white milk, almost half the total milk served. This study demonstrates there are more problems than solutions that result from flavored milk bans.

USDA Cuts Go Beyond Chocolate Milk

The proposed USDA changes will go well beyond chocolate milk. Recently, Protect The Harvest released information on the proposed Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) dairy allotment reduction by the USDA (linked below), threatening harm to mothers with young children by limiting their access to nutritious dairy products. The proposal suggests replacing dairy products with plant-based alternatives. An outpouring of opposition resulted from mothers speaking out about the proposed reduction, with the dairy industry supporting the mothers. Together, they are standing their ground against the removal of flavored milk in school cafeterias.

Recent dairy product bans from USDA makes those with common sense wonder what the department is trying to accomplish. The department’s actions and words do not align with providing young children with proper nutrition they could easily obtain from milk and other dairy products. Is there an animal rights agenda at work targeting dairy cows? Are plant-based/vegan lobbies pushing their agendas with USDA? Are environmental extremists influencing the department?

What You and Others Can Do

Do not remain silent. Speak up and stay informed to ensure nutritious dairy products remain on school meal menus. It is important that your voice is heard. Often those who are affected by laws and bans are not those who create them. To voice your point of view about the proposed flavored milk bans reach out to the USDA through their website (linked below) and let them know your thoughts. Keeping America free and fed starts with our children being properly nourished.

Helpful Resources

USDA Chocolate Milk Ban Proposition HERE

IDFA on Chocolate Milk Ban HERE

Study on Banning Chocolate Milk in Schools HERE

CDC on Childhood Obesity HERE

Added Sugars in School Meals and the Diets of School-Age Children HERE

PTH on WIC Dairy Allotment Cuts HERE

The Relationship Between Flavored Milk and BMI HERE

USDA on Food Waste HERE

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