Milk Under Fire

IDFA and DMI weigh in on IOM’s recommended nutrition standards for schools.

The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) proposed standards recognize the central role low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products play in good nutrition for kids and teens. The standards also rightly seek to reduce student access to high-calorie foods of low nutritional value.
However, the standards are more restrictive than the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and, if adopted as written, could inadvertently reduce dairy and milk consumption among students and hinder federal nutrition goals for children and teens, industry leaders contend.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend that children age 9 and older consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or dairy products a day — and dairy products in schools are a cornerstone of that goal. In fact, the guidelines state that “consuming three servings of milk and milk products each day can reduce the risk of low bone mass and contribute important amounts of many nutrients. Furthermore, this amount of milk product consumption may have additional benefits and is not associated with increased body weight.”
The Child Nutrition Act recently reinforced milk’s place as the preferred school beverage and gave schools the ability to offer milk “anytime, anywhere,” pushing back on soft drink exclusivity contracts that prevented schools from offering milk outside the lunch line.
The dairy industry continues to work with school nutrition professionals to help increase the availability and appeal of milk and dairy products in schools across the country. While the IOM states that it wants to make recommendations consistent with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, its proposed standards are more restrictive than the Dietary Guidelines and could exclude important milk products, including most yogurts and flavored milks. Milk and dairy products — and particularly flavored milk — are key providers of nutrients to school-aged children.
In a recent pilot program in New York City, removing flavored milk from school lunch rooms led to disastrous results. When the city health department decided to severely limit flavored milk sales in a group of “test” schools, overall milk consumption for New York schools declined by 10 to 15 percent. Local reports suggest that in the test schools, milk consumption dropped by as much as 50 percent, which certainly negatively impacted the students’ nutrient intake.
Obesity rates in youth and other health concerns are the impetus behind efforts to limit calories and enhance the availability of nutrient-dense foods. The IOM recommendations could be considered in the 2007 Farm Bill to apply standards to snack foods and beverages sold outside the regular school meals, and in vending machines and school stores.
“The availability of milk types, particularly flavored milks, could be significantly impacted by caloric serving restrictions at the federal level,” says Victor Zaborsky, director of marketing for Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). “With milk in schools already having a tough time maintaining and attracting kids to choose milk over other options, measures that limit choice in flavors and varieties because of current and future calorie restrictions should be carefully considered.”
Zaborsky notes that MilkPEP has teamed up with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the leading flavor houses to put on Flavored Milk Formulation Workshops to help milk processors take action in preparation for impending legislation. “The workshops will instruct on how to develop new formulations that are great-tasting and lower-calorie,” he says. “Processors who are interested in attending the workshops should contact IDFA. Workshops are scheduled to start in mid-August.”
Camellia Patey, vice president of school marketing for Rosemont, Ill.-based DMI also weighs in on the restrictive nature of IOM’s recommended nutrition standards. “The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine released a report recommending nutrition standards be established for foods and beverages sold outside of the School Meal Program, such as a la carte cafeteria, vending machine and school store items. The report promotes the consumption and sale of non-fat or low-fat dairy products in the school environment,” she says. “While the IOM report’s guidelines reinforce dairy’s role in a child’s diet, it did impose a 22-gram total sugars limit on flavored milk. DMI has responded to IOM voicing its concerns on the negative impact this limit may have on the consumption of flavored milk, which provides several nutrients critical to children’s health.”
Patey says DMI has taken action to help protect flavored milk in school. “Starting in 2006, DMI has invested in sensory and formulation work to provide industry guidance on developing new, tasty flavored milk products that appeal to kids with lower levels of calories and sugars,” she says. “This work resulted in the development of a well-accepted strawberry milk prototype formula with 25 grams of total sugar and 150 calories.”
In addition, DMI was instrumental in working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to modify the original beverage guidelines in recognition of the importance of milk’s natural nutrients in children’s diets and the currently limited availability of flavored milk with less than 150 calories per 8 ounces. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation School Beverage Guidelines were recently amended to extend the calorie cap on flavored milk from 150 to 180 calories until August 2008.
Patey says processors are able to participate in DMI’s flavored milk sensory testing, which provides an understanding of how a product compares to others in the school environment as well as general formulation information on various attributes of flavored milk.  
For more comments from IDFA on the IOM proposed nutrition standards, visit www.idfa.org.