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The Great Chocolate Milk Debate

Chocolate milk – thumbs up or thumbs down? We’re hearing so much on both sides of the issue we’re starting to think chocolate milk is the high fructose corn syrup of 2010. Call it a tempest in a sippy-cup: On one side are the people who say that kids aren’t going to choose milk otherwise, so chocolate milk is a good way to help them get the calcium and Vitamin D that they need. On the other side are people who say that there’s so much sugar in chocolate milk it’s basically a dessert, and by offering it to them on a regular basis we’re contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.

Already this week we’ve seen two great chocolate milk run-downs. The L.A. Times has a useful pro/con debate starting with Rachel Johnson, a Vermont dietitian whose research has been funded by the National Dairy Council (pro-chocolate milk argument: We need to find the lowest-fat and lowest-added-sugar milk that children will readily consume). On the opposing side is Marlene Schwartz of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (anti-chocolate milk argument: By providing flavored milk to young children you are likely training them to prefer — and eventually over-consume — sugar-sweetened beverages).

Also this week the New York Times gave us a good rundown of schools that are banning chocolate milk (District of Columbia and Berkeley, Calif.) and considering a ban (Florida). The article also pointed to a campaign in support of chocolate milk sponsored by the National Dairy Council. (“Some schools and activist groups are looking to remove low-fat chocolate milk from cafeterias, but this actually could do more nutritional harm than good. Chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice in schools and kids will drink less milk (and get fewer nutrients) if it’s taken away,” the campaign’s web site declares. )

Another voice featured in the story is Chef Ann Cooper (a.k.a. the Renegade Lunch Lady), who has been one of the more outspoken opponents of chocolate milk in the public schools. “As far as I’m concerned, chocolate milk is soda in drag and it does not belong in our schools,” she says in her “Eliminating Chocolate Milk in Schools” video. “If you want to serve your kids chocolate milk, do it for Sunday brunch when you’re serving them waffles with ice cream and chocolate milk and it’s a treat.”

Here at the Jolly Tomato house, we’re generally of the “chocolate milk as an occasional treat” camp. But a few years back when we had a reluctant milk drinker, we used to add a tablespoon or two of chocolate milk to the regular milk to sweeten it up and make it slightly chocolate-y. He eventually got past his milk hang-up and now he drinks regular unflavored low-fat milk as his first choice of beverage. Now we have a second reluctant milk-drinker on our hands, but this one will happily eat cheese and yogurt and other calcium-rich foods, so we’re not too worried at the moment (or at least not worried enough to start offering chocolate milk on a regular basis).

But if someone were to offer either one of them a glass of full-on chocolate milk, they’d accept it in a heartbeat. They’re kids, after all – they love that sort of thing. That’s why we’re still scratching our heads over why chocolate milk needs a national campaign on its behalf. Is chocolate milk really the victim here?

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2 Responses to The Great Chocolate Milk Debate

  1. Wendy Sue Swanson, MD August 26, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    Thanks for the great post and the great links you provided to good sources of information.
    As a mom and pediatrician, I’m PURE thumbs down when it comes to chocolate milk. Teaching kids to crave and love sweet beverages is never in their best interest. Toddlers and school-age kids only two things: milk and water. All the other stuff is gravy. We all need treats, and chocolate milk should be considered just that. From chocolate flavored formula to chocolate milk, none of this will help our children THRIVE.

    Here’s my blog post and video about my take on chocolate formula:

  2. jollytomato August 27, 2010 at 4:24 am #

    Thanks, Dr. Swanson! Your comments are always appreciated, and we like this video too. It offers some great advice about getting your child off to a good nutritional start. Thanks for sharing! – Jeanne

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