Chocolate milk (as well as other flavored, sweetened milk) has recently become a prime target in the national debate over childhood obesity. That debate has led to outright bans in school lunchrooms—or to switches from flavored milk sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to formulas flavored with more expensive sugar.
What has been lost in the debate are a few basic facts:
- A sugar is a sugar. HFCS is sugar made from corn, just as sucrose (table sugar) is sugar made from cane or beets. Compositionally, HFCS and table sugar are nearly identical, roughly half glucose and half fructose. They are nutritionally the same. They have the same number of calories and are metabolized by our bodies in the same way.
- While the USDA is absolutely right—Americans should cut back on overall calories and added sugars—sugars play a valuable role in our diet. They help us get the nutrients we should consume from cereals and grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, including milk.
- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, barely 40% of children ages 6–11 receive the recommended daily calcium they need for their bones and teeth to grow properly. Among teenagers, only 10% of girls and 30% of boys (ages 12–19) get enough calcium.
The situation appears to go from bad to worse when flavored milk is pulled from schools. According to a 2009 survey of 58 elementary and secondary schools across the country by the Milk Processor Education Program, kids’ consumption of milk overall dropped 35% when flavored milk was removed from school menus.
We should be reasonable about the amount of sweets our children eat, but we should not deprive them of the nutrients they need by pulling flavored milk from lunchrooms—or by spending scarce resources on a more expensive sweetener.