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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering limits on certain food and drink like chocolate milk in schools to “reduce children’s risk of chronic disease.”
In February, the USDA first proposed updates to public school nutrition standards that would limit sodium intake and added sugars from students’ diets. Among its proposals included limiting the amount of flavored milk, such as strawberry and chocolate, in high schools while outright prohibiting it in elementary and middle schools.
“USDA is proposing to allow flavored milk for high school children only (grades 9-12). This approach would reduce exposure to added sugars and would promote the more nutrient-dense choice of unflavored milk for young children when their tastes are being formed. The proposed regulatory text for this alternative would allow flavored milk only for high schools (grades 9-12),” the proposal read.
It continued, “Children in grades K-5 would again be limited to a variety of unflavored milk.”
The USDA welcomed public comments on the proposal, closing the section on May 10. Over 90,000 comments were submitted on its website, both supporting the measure and condemning it.
Cindy Long, administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, told the Wall Street Journal, “Flavored milk is a challenging issue to figure out exactly the best path forward. We really do want to encourage children to consume milk and we also recognize the need to reduce added-sugar consumption.”
Speaking in favor of the proposal, nutrition professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Erica Lauren commented, “From a public-health perspective, it makes a lot of sense to try to limit the servings of these flavored milks because they do have quite a lot of added sugar.”
In contrast, some nutrition directors criticized the proposal, noting that chocolate milk still contains essential nutrients and is the preferred beverage of children.
“We want to take a product that most kids like and that has nine essential nutrients in it and say, ‘You can’t drink this. You have to drink plain,'” Urban School Food Alliance executive director Katie Wilson said. “What are we trying to prove?”
Though the USDA proposal highlighted the concerns over its sugar content, past studies have indicated chocolate milk appears to have some health benefits. A 2015 study suggested that chocolate milk could be one of the best options for a post-workout beverage due to its levels of protein, carbohydrates and calcium.
But some cities and states have proposed efforts to ban chocolate milk in public schools. In 2019, New York City’s Department of Education considered a ban on the beverage only to see backlash from parents. At the time, San Francisco and Washington D.C. had already enacted bans in their public schools.
If the USDA accepts the flavor milk ban proposal, it will likely go into effect for the 2025-2026 school year.