According to a new study, when 11 Oregon elementary schools removed flavored milk from their cafeterias, students consumed less milk and purchased fewer school lunches. The study was published online in April 2014 by PLOS ONE, an online, peer-reviewed, open-access publication.
Approximately 63 percent of all milk offered in schools is flavored; chocolate comprises about 90 percent of the flavored options, with strawberry and vanilla trailing behind. Many school officials across the country, concerned about the high-sugar content in these kid-friendly options, are confronting the decision to limit or prohibit the sale of flavored milk. A new study of 11 Oregon elementary schools looks at milk consumption before and after flavored milk was removed in an effort to gauge the impact of the ban on overall milk consumption. Since chocolate milk is the most common flavored milk offered in schools, all flavored milk in the study is referred to as chocolate milk.
All 11 elementary schools featured in the study were from the same Oregon district, where roughly 85 percent of the 157,000 adults and students are white, 8 percent are Hispanic or Latino and 1 percent is black. Roughly 22 percent of the individuals in the district are below the poverty level, compared to the approximately 14 percent national average. In the 2011 – 2012 school year, chocolate milk was removed in elementary schools and skim milk was offered in its place. Milk sale data was collected at all 11 schools, and milk waste data—measured in the gallons dumped by students—was collected in 10 out of the 11 schools.
As a result of the chocolate-milk ban, the average daily sales per school of white milk increased by 152 percent. However, an average of 30 fewer units of milk were sold each day, suggesting that 30 students opted against choosing milk as their beverage. This lead to about a 10 percent decrease in milk selection. Additionally, about 41 percent of the milk selected was wasted. As a comparison, elementary school students from five schools in New York City—where chocolate milk was available—wasted about 32 percent of the milk they selected, on average.
The authors of the report note that the study is exploratory and highlights the need for full-scale follow-up studies. They said that yanking chocolate milk from schools may immediately reduce students’ calorie and sugar intake. However, eliminating chocolate milk may also cause students to drink less milk overall or forgo school lunch altogether. They conclude that for now, school officials must perform cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether chocolate milk should be offered, and they urge officials to scheme up ways to make regular milk appealing to students.