At their July 20 meeting, members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s (SMMUSD) Board of Education began considering whether to ban flavored milk from all meals served in the district. .
A group of parents had asked the board to ban flavored milk at their June 16 meeting because of concerns that the added sugar in flavored milk is unhealthy for children. At the July 20 meeting one of these parents indicated they have already gathered 1,000 signatures on an online petition supporting the ban. The parent’s request comes on the heels of a ban of all flavored milk in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) on June 14 due to similar concerns.
Districts nation-wide are looking at teaching healthier eating habits at school because of the increase in childhood obesity which has more than tripled in the last 30 years according to the district staff report presented at the board meeting.
The district’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Orlando Griego, told the board during his presentation that the district has been offering flavored milk as part of its meal services since the early 1980s. In the 2010-2011 academic year, 440,861 units of milk were offered. Students had a choice of one percent fat non-flavored milk, non-fat unflavored milk, and non-fat flavored milk. Students chose to drink flavored milk 76 percent of the time.
Griego noted that the federal dietary guidelines for 2010, which are updated every five years, state that “an example of nutrient-dense foods containing added sugars which can improve palatability include fat-free chocolate milk.”
The district’s Nutrition Specialist, Dona Richwine, explained that the non-fat chocolate milk currently being served in the district contains a total of 20 grams of sugar and that eight of those grams are added sugar because it is flavored. She also pointed out that milk is a nutrient dense food that contains Vitamins A and D, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and riboflavin. Calcium intake is of critical importance in growing children because of their need for the development of healthy bone mass. She also stressed, “when you remove milk [from someone’s diet] you remove nutrients that are not that easily replaced.”
Richwine also emphasized that when a two-year study in seven school districts reviewed the effect of removing flavored milk from 58 schools, actual consumption of milk dropped by 35 percent.
Physicians who are also parents in the district gave most of the public input. Their consensus was summed up when Morris Salem, a pediatric cardiologist and a Franklin Elementary School parent stated, “Chocolate milk contains a lot of empty calories. Milk is sweet enough as it is and it doesn’t need added sugar. We need to break the cycle and take empty fat and sugar calories out. If the LAUSD can do this why can’t we?”
Salem also criticized the district’s presentation by saying that the slide show was misleading and inaccurate since many of the studies were done outside of Southern California. In his view, the health issues in Southern California pertaining to a ban on flavored milk are different from other regions in the nation.
“We need to provide healthy choices for our kids,” emphasized Chris Goddard, a parent. “Forty-eight school districts in the nation have eliminated flavored milk.”
School board members had varying views. Board member Oscar de la Torre favored the ban.
“This is an opportunity to make a quick decision that will make an impact by increasing awareness,” said de la Torre. He explained that that this could be a first step in raising awareness on changing the culture about what foods are being served at district schools. His view was supported by Board member Ralph Mechur.
“What are the unintended consequences?” asked Board President Jose Escarce, who wants things “to stay where we are.” He was concerned about the study that showed that when flavored milk was removed, milk consumption dropped by students at a critical time in their development.
Two other board members, Nimish Patel and Ben Allen, called for more information from district staff before they could make a decision.
“We need opinions from dietitians and nutritionists and information on best practices in other districts,” said Allen.
The board will vote on whether to ban flavored milk on Aug. 24.