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.
Focusing on whole foods and balanced lunches could go much further in giving kids the nutrients they need without the added sugars.
While milk and dairy products are traditionally thought of as the best foods for calcium, they are not the only sources. Foods like collard greens, almonds and soups made with organic bone broths offer calcium and other essential minerals without health risks.
Besides the problem of added sugar, milk is also linked to several health conditions. In 1994, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), which is widely used in the dairy industry to get cows to produce up to 20 percent more milk. The growth hormone stimulates the cow’s liver to produce more IGF-1, and the pasteurization process increases IGF-1 levels in milk. IGF-1 promotes the transformation of normal breast cells to breast cancer in humans, and it also helps cancers spread, according to Dr. Samuel Epstein at preventcancer.com.
In addition, cows injected with rBGH have increased rates of mastitis, an udder infection that creates inflammation of the mammary glands. The cow’s immune system responds to the infection by producing somatic pus cells that are excreted into their milk. In an attempt to control these infections, dairy farmers regularly use antibiotics, which also end up in the milk that we consume.
Milk contains the sugar lactose, which is not easily digested by most of the world’s population. Almost 100 percent of Asians are lactose intolerant, as are about 65 percent of Africans.
Still, dairy is one of the top farm subsidies in our country. US dairy program subsidies totaled $4.9 billion from 1995 to 2010, according to Environmental Working Group’s 2011 Farm Subsidies Database.
Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.
Jamie Oliver is wrong about flavored milk
LA Bans Flavored Milks:
American Academy of Pediatrics
Milk from cows not treated with rBGH
Reviewed June 29, 2011
Edited by Kate Kunkel