Variety In Review

N.Y. council calls for assessment of decision to limit school milk choices.

Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) commended the New York City Council last month for passing a resolution asking the city’s Department of Education to reassess its decision to limit milk choices in public schools.
Milk consumption in New York City public schools has dropped 10 percent since that initial action went into effect. The resolution came in response to a decision the department made in November 2005 directing all city schools to serve only lowfat and fat-free white milk, and allowing only some schools to offer fat-free chocolate milk on special occasions.
A wide variety of milk had been available, including lowfat chocolate and strawberry. The department mandate was issued as part of the city’s effort to fight childhood obesity and diabetes.
“Clearly, New York City is seeing the unintended consequences of an ill-advised decision to limit the kinds of milk children are offered in school,” said Chip Kunde, senior vice president for IDFA. “The result is that fewer children are getting the calcium and essential nutrients that milk provides, with more risk of poor health.”
Many health officials and parents, including Councilman Bill de Blasio, disagreed with the department’s mandate in 2005 and expressed concern that children would drink less milk if given fewer choices. In response, de Blasio introduced Resolution 636 last April calling for a review of the mandate and its effect on milk consumption in schools and child nutrition.
“As a public-school parent with two kids, I know how tough it can be to try and get your kids to drink milk,” de Blasio said. “Eliminating lowfat flavored milk options in schools has given kids fewer choices and opportunities to get the vitamins and calcium they need.”
The vote comes three months after the council’s Committee on Education held a special public hearing to assess the impact of the decision and to consider the resolution. At the hearing, it was revealed that milk consumption had dropped 10 percent since the mandate went into effect. David Berkowitz, the city’s school food director, acknowledged the decline but refused to say that school officials would change their decision.
Members of a coalition of leading medical and health organizations testified during the hearing that children will opt for less healthy alternatives, such as soft drinks, unless more palatable healthy options like flavored milk are made available. Citing research showing milk to be the number one source of essential vitamins and nutrients in kids’ diets, the experts testified that milk, both plain and flavored, plays an important role in the healthy diets of children.
“There is no evidence that the consumption of flavored fat-free and 1% milk, even daily, affects weight negatively,” said Keith Ayoob, a pediatric nutritionist and associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who chairs the coalition. “There is good evidence that flavored milk can help kids get enough calcium when they wouldn’t normally.”
IDFA commended de Blasio and Education Committee chairman Robert Jackson for their leading efforts on this issue, as well as the work of the Advocates for School Milk Choices (ASMC), the coalition that includes the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, the Empire State Medical Association and the Greater New York Dietetic Association. IDFA urges council and coalition members to continue to push the Department of Education to conduct a formal evaluation of the decision’s consequences and restore more milk choices in all public schools.
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