Removing flavored milk from elementary school lunches may have unexpected effects on kids nutrition

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1387988_59544553In an op-ed in the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer decries puritanical efforts to get school children to eat more nutritionally beneficial foods by eliminating flavored milk or sweetened cereals from school offerings. He notes that a recent scientific article found that in schools removing flavored milk (mostly chocolate) from elementary school menus, the students ended up choosing less milk overall, and wasting more of it. We found and examined the study he cited in order to further evaluate its conclusions.

Dr. Brian Wansink, an ACSH scientific advisor, and colleagues from the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, investigated the effects of removing flavored milks from the menus of 11 Oregon elementary schools. They examined data from two school years: 2010-2011, before flavored milks were banned, and from 2011-2012 the first year thereafter. The schools banning flavored milks substituted non-fat milk instead. One percent milk was already being offered.

In particular, the researchers examined overall milk selection and consumption the latter estimated from milk purchase and wastage. Because milk waste wasn t evaluated in Oregon during the first year when flavored milk was still available, the authors used data from New York City schools for their initial estimate of milk wastage.

Overall, the investigators found that when flavored milks were removed from students menus, there was a significant increase in milk waste by 29 percent. In addition, the overall purchase of any milk dropped from 78 percent to 71 percent of students. Further, although white milk purchase increased after the ban (by 161 8 oz cartons per day), over 29 percent of this milk was thrown away, and fewer students purchased school lunches than was true before the ban was enacted.

In their conclusion, the authors noted While removing [flavored] milk from school cafeterias may appear to have the immediate benefit of reducing calorie and sugar consumption, there might be unexpected consequences to doing so. Possible effects, they said, might include changes in protein, calories and calcium intake.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava commented While this is a preliminary study, and no causal relationship between flavored milk bans and student behavior can be assumed, it certainly provides the impetus for further research in this area. We need to learn, for example if these findings are robust in elementary school children, and further whether the changes in behavior seen will endure as these children move into middle and high school. She continued It will also be important to learn if these behavioral changes will be seen in children who have never had the choice of flavored milks at lunch times, or if the changes in milk purchase and consumption are primarily a reaction to the loss of a favored choice.