By COSHANDRA DILLARD
I have never been a fan of white milk. As a kindergartner, I loved chocolate milk. I remember a much-anticipated part of the day at school was getting to drink a half-pint carton of chocolate milk on the playground during recess. It was probably the third carton of the day, as I would drink it at breakfast and lunch.
Today, school officials are rethinking how much, if any, chocolate milk (or strawberry or vanilla milk) children should be served. Flavored milk is out, and low- or nonfat plain milk is in.
Los Angeles Unified School District is the latest -- and the largest school district -- in the nation to remove chocolate and strawberry milk from its menus. Officials there said it's an effort to provide more nutritious options to children.
Since childhood obesity has tripled since 1980, health officials point to increased consumption of sugary beverages as a leading cause of health problems.
"We know that sugar rots your teeth, but in a matter of speaking, it also rots your body," said Dr. Brady Swinney, a dentist at St. Paul's Dental Clinic in Tyler.
There are low-fat and nonfat flavored milk varieties, but it still offers about twice as much sugar as plain milk, which already is naturally sweetened by fructose.
A half-pint, or cup, of plain white fat-free milk has about 90 calories and 12 grams of sugar. Chocolate fat-free milk has 20 grams of sugar, and strawberry milk has 26 grams of sugar. If offered for breakfast and lunch at school, kids consume up to 52 grams of sugar just from their beverages, which equals 13 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association has recommended that children consume less than 12 grams of added sugar, or 3 teaspoons per day.
Critics said the added sugar is not a good enough reason to yank flavored milk from school cafeterias. The National Dairy Council said there are other ways to shave calories and reduce sugar consumption from their diets. Many children prefer the taste of flavored milk to plain white milk, and they believe it is the only way some will get a daily recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D.
Los Angeles school district officials aren't stopping at flavored milk. They expect items such as corn dogs and chicken nuggets will be the next "food" items to go. Much of the changes are reactions to television's Jamie Oliver and his campaign to improve offerings made in American school cafeterias.
It's a step in the right direction, considering our children are not expected to live longer than us if their calorie, sugar and fat consumption continues.
Only time will tell whether the removal of flavored milk and other common cafeteria items such as nachos, fried steak fingers and sausage pancake on a stick will hit all schools. I am sure it will take more than the urging of the medical community and concerned parents. There has to be decisions made at the federal, state and local levels. Nonetheless, it's got to happen and happen fast.
(Coshandra Dillard covers health-related topics for the Tyler Morning Telegraph.)