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In a world of shockingly high rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, some scientists and medical professionals are still concerned about kids getting enough calcium. This argument has been one of the main reasons chocolate and strawberry-flavored milks are offered daily to US public school students.
On July 1, 2011, the Los Angeles Unified School District will stop serving flavored milks in an attempt to cut children’s sugar consumption at school. The L.A. district joins a small, but growing number of school districts nationwide that offer plain milk only.
But some experts say the sugar-sweetened drinks are worth the trade-off, and the trend is not good for children’s health. While flavored milks have added sugar, they say it’s still better than kids drinking soda.
“When you look at childhood obesity, chocolate milk is not the problem,” said Caroline Steele, manager of clinical nutrition at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in the OC Register. “It’s a nutritious way to get them to drink milk. If they’re not drinking it, they might be drinking non-healthy drinks like sodas.”
Unfortunately, from a purely sugar-based perspective, flavored milk is not a superior drink. Eight ounces of fat-free strawberry milk contains 27 grams of sugar, which is the exact amount found in 8 ounces of Coca-Cola.
Steele was asked via email after L.A. County banned milk if she still thought flavored milk was appropriate for children.
“I still believe that low-fat or fat-free chocolate milk can be an appropriate part of a healthy diet for children,” she said. “We know that all forms of milk (plain or flavored) contain a unique combination of nutrients important for growth and development. Children often don’t get enough calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin D—all of which are found in plain or flavored milk.”
According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics on bone health and calcium intakes, nearly 40 percent of children ages six to 11 receive the recommended daily calcium they need for their bones and teeth to grow properly. As for teenagers ages 12 to 19 years old, only 10 percent of girls and only 30 percent of boys get enough calcium.