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When dairy milk options are expanded for schools, everyone wins

Contributed by Julie Sweney Published on 22 August 2019

Back to school ads are everywhere, and it seems the last few weeks of summer are quickly passing us by. Before we know it, Labor Day will have come and gone, and teachers and students will be back in their classrooms, kicking off a new school year.

As we all know, one of the keys for our children to learn effectively is making sure we meet their nutritional needs, and milk is part of the solution. While we are investing heavily in their educational needs, we need to do more in the area of child nutrition. 

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According to the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American children and adolescents over 4 years of age are not consuming enough dairy to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations. Milk is a powerhouse of key nutrients young kids need to grow. In fact, milk is the leading food source of three of the four nutrients that are of greatest concern for American children ages 2 to 18 including calcium, vitamin D and potassium. So why aren’t kids these days consuming milk like the generations before them?

There is a widely recognized decline in the amount of milk kids are drinking at school. This decline coincides with a 2012 regulatory change which barred low-fat (1%) flavored milk from school lunches, breakfasts and other school food options. A study by the Milk Processor Education Program, which is overseen by the USDA, found a 7% drop in the amount of milk kids were drinking in school between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has also stated that milk consumption has declined in recent years.

While the dairy industry was successful in getting the USDA to recently adopt a regulatory change to allow schools to offer low-fat (1%) flavored milk to students, what is needed is a permanent solution. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced thanks to Congressmen Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) who have authored the School Milk Nutrition Act of 2019, a bill that maintains the option for schools to offer low-fat (1%) flavored milk to students. The bill also reaffirms that milk offered in schools must be consistent with current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

This is an important first step. And honestly, stopping at 1% is still not good enough for our children, if we truly care about their nutrition. Whole milk is where the real powerhouse of nutrients is at, especially as more and more research confirms the benefits of dairy fats. However, in order to make lasting change, it takes gradual steps, and today, it means making sure that 1% flavored milk remains in our school cafeterias. 

What’s interesting is that when 300 schools offered 1% flavored milk in the 2017-18 school year, they found students in 73% of the schools liked 1% flavored milk better, 58% of schools experienced an increase in milk sold, and 82% of schools reported it was easy or very easy to accommodate 1% flavored milk within the calorie maximums for their menus. Allowing low-fat flavored milk in schools is consistent with USDA’s and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans … so let’s maintain this option.

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What can we do? Contact your congressional representatives and tell them the health of today’s school children matters to you – and ask them to support the School Milk Nutrition Act of 2019. 

Passing this legislation supports the health and habits of today’s school children by reminding them of the great taste of milk, which dairy farmers have known all along … Milk does a body good.  end mark

Julie Sweney is the director of communications and marketing with FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative.

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