Growing concerns about obesity have sparked changes in the kinds of foods and beverages available to children in schools.

Peggy Biltz
Growing concerns about obesity have sparked changes in the kinds of foods and beverages available to children in schools. Simultaneously, flavored milk is making its way into school lunch programs, snack bars, and vending machines, causing some concern among parents and school personnel about added sugar and its impact on obesity.

Current research helps dispel some of the misconceptions. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association last year looked at how drinking flavored milk affects the diets of children and teens. The study found that for children who drink flavored milk, their calcium intake increased but their sugar intake stayed the same.

In addition, a recent analysis of flavored milk conducted by the Dairy Council of California shows its total nutrient package outweighs the perceived negatives associated with the sugar content.

Dairy Council's analysis found that although 100% flavored milk contains more sugar than regular milk, it has a similar nutrient portfolio, with significant amounts of essential nutrients such as calcium and protein.

Dairy Council believes that both unflavored and flavored 100% milks are nutritious beverage choices. And since flavored milk is liked by children, it can be consumed as part of a balanced diet without concern for weight gain or excess consumption of added sugars.

In addition, milk-based products (containing up to 55% milk), which may have more sugar and are sometimes carbonated, contain as much calcium and vitamin A and D as 100% milk. Therefore, these milk-based products are healthy beverage choices when compared to soda.

This is good news for the dairy industry since the popularity of 100% flavored milk and milk-based products is growing.

A recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a poll conducted in 2002 found milk consumption among 13- to 17 year olds increased for the first time in six years. The increase is mainly attributed to the rise in popularity of flavored milk.

Despite the opposition because of its sugar content, flavored milk provides opportunities for the dairy industry.

Both flavored and unflavored milks can be considered healthful beverages, and as soft drinks move out of schools, there is room for milk's presence in schools to grow.

As people voice their concerns about flavored and unflavored milks, it's up to the industry to help educate school personnel, parents and children about milk products' place in a healthy diet. The role of nutrition education will become increasingly important to ensuring milk's presence in schools now and in the future.

Dairy Council has been the foundation for nutrition education in California for more than 85 years, educating teachers, students and the food service audiences about the nutritional value of milk and dairy foods.

Dairy Foods is always interested in providing a forum for the views of individuals involved in the industry.