The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) said it is celebrating the decision by New York Mayor Eric Adams to allow New York City public schools to continue to serve nutritious low-fat and fat-free flavored milk with school meals.

The New York Post reported over the weekend that Mayor Adams is “backing off his proposed ban on chocolate milk” in New York City public school meals, Washington, D.C.-based IDFA said. Instead, the mayor’s administration is honoring a longstanding policy in New York City government that allows individual schools to determine the types of milk they will serve with meals as long as the milk options are consistent with standards from USDA.

The mayor is also seeking further input on food and beverage offerings in city schools, IDFA said. USDA school meal standards, as well as the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, support serving low-fat flavored milk in schools.

The mayor’s decision comes after weeks of advocacy by IDFA and other dairy organizations, as well as bipartisan outreach and proposed legislation by members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I am pleased to see Mayor Adams following the lead of parents, physicians and dietitians, all of whom widely support offering low-fat flavored milk to students in our public schools,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of IDFA. “Studies have shown school meals are the healthiest meals of the day for children, thanks, in part, to nutritious milk and dairy options. Offering low-fat flavored milk increases school meal participation, leads to children consuming more nutrients of public health concern and reduces food waste.

“Maintaining low-fat flavored milk options in school plays an important role in the diet and nutrition of children because milk contains 13 essential nutrients that children need for growth, development, healthy immune function and overall wellness,” Dykes added. “IDFA is grateful to our association members, parents of school-aged children, physicians and dietitians, and members of Congress who spoke up on behalf of what’s best for child nutrition and preserved low-fat flavored milk in New York City public schools.”

In a rare bipartisan letter from Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) and other members of Congress from New York, legislators encouraged Mayor Adams not to eliminate flavored milk from New York City school meals, IDFA said. Days later, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) introduced a bill, The Protecting School Milk Choices Act, that would require school systems in the federal lunch program to offer students at least one low-fat flavored milk option at meals. Then, in an editorial written for the New York Daily News, Keith Ayoob — a pediatric nutritionist, registered dietitian and clinical practitioner who served as director of the nutrition clinic at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx for more than 30 years — argued that in proposing to ban low-fat flavored milk, Mayor Adams would be undercutting his goals of improving child health and nutrition. The bipartisan letter, the legislation and the op-ed all referenced a survey done by Morning Consult and commissioned by IDFA, which found that 90% of New York City voters with children in public schools and 85% of parents nationally support offering low-fat flavored milk in public school meals. IDFA said it also launched a direct appeal to Mayor Adams encouraging his administration to preserve low-fat flavored milk.

At present, more than two-thirds of milk served in school is of the low-fat flavored variety, which represents an essential way that kids get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, IDFA said. Research finds that children who drink flavored milk consume more nutrients of concern such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium compared to nonflavored milk drinkers.

Studies have shown that reducing or eliminating the availability of flavored milk in schools has led to overall decreased milk consumption and increased food waste, IDFA said. The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans found that children of all ages are not meeting the recommended intake of dairy foods and thereby underconsuming a variety of nutrients during childhood and adolescence, including potassium, calcium and vitamin D.

In March, USDA released a transitional final rule maintaining low-fat flavored milk and other needed flexibilities in USDA child nutrition program meal requirements through the 2023-2024 school year. USDA is now reviewing comments in preparation for releasing updated child nutrition program standards for the 2024 school year and beyond. IDFA said it will continue to remain engaged with USDA, Congress, state and city governments, and other stakeholders on child nutrition discussions and policies.