Chocolate milk could be on the chopping block for many U.S. schools



A federal proposal to reduce the amount of sugar students consume in school could lead to a ban on a popular, and at least partially healthy, item on cafeteria menus: chocolate milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a ban on the sweetened drink in elementary and middle schools starting in the fall of 2025.

The reason?

A recent analysis found that flavored milk is a leading source of added sugars in school meals, delivering nearly half of it in lunches and nearly a third in breakfasts. “Overconsumption of added sugars has been identified as an important public health concern,” the analysis says.

Sugar is associated with weight gain and obesity, tooth decay, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among other risks. Three out of every five Americans aged 2 and up exceed the recommended daily consumption of sugars, which is 10% of daily caloric intake, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A fifth of U.S. children and adolescents are affected by obesity, the CDC reports.

Even so, chocolate milk is popular among children. Some say the benefits of getting picky eaters to drink milk is worth the side effects of sugared flavoring.

The Decatur school system discovered this about a decade ago, when parents pushed for a healthier menu. Chocolate milk was among the targeted items.

City Schools of Decatur is in the processing of hiring a nutrition director and had no comment, though a spokeswoman did say chocolate milk was not banned.

Local mom Clare Schexnyder served on the superintendent’s advisory panel that considered the issue in 2012. Kids pushed back and so did their parents, so the system dropped the idea, she recalled, adding that she was surprised by the angry tone of the some of the emails she received. The general sentiment seemed to be that flavored milk is better than no milk, she said.

The Georgia Department of Education had no comment Wednesday but on Thursday provided a statement from state school Superintendent Richard Woods. The agency said flavored milk is probably served in every school, and Woods said he supports that practice because students learn better when well-nourished and because milk, even when flavored, is nutritious: “we must work to provide healthy meal options for students that are also appealing foods that students will reach for,” Woods said.

Fulton County Schools, among the largest systems in Georgia, said the district is a champion of child health and wellness and that “properly nourished students learn better and achieve more.” The district said it also believes in “incorporating healthier versions of students’ favorite foods.”

Still, officials there took no position on chocolate milk, saying they were awaiting the federal agency’s decision.

But Connie Walker, who runs the DeKalb County School District’s nutrition department, saw downsides to the proposed ban, noting that dairy processors have reduced the amount of added sugar over the years and that milk contains protein, phosphorus, B vitamins and vitamin D.

“Experience has shown that taking flavored milk out of the school nutrition program simply reduces consumption,” Walker said.

Shelby Halley said her first grader and preschooler would revolt if chocolate milk were banned. It’s a staple in both their diets at school.

The Cobb County mom said she’s more concerned about dyes and preservatives in food. A fight over chocolate milk seems unnecessary given all the other problems in the world today, she said, adding that she wouldn’t look forward to the pushback from her kids were the federal government to impose the ban.

And what’s the alternative, she asked, sugar-laden juice?

Her son, 6, has chocolate milk with his school lunches Tuesday through Friday (he brings his lunch on Mondays). Her daughter, 2, a budding activist, expects chocolate milk daily in preschool.

“You’d have to pry the chocolate milk from her cold dead hands, she is so stubborn,” Halley said. “Like, she’ll burn it to the ground.”