Confirming what the dairy industry has said for years, a Cornell University study found that banning flavored milk from school cafeterias can trigger unintended consequences that outweigh any potential benefits from reduced sugar consumption.
With funding from the Agriculture Department, the Cornell researchers looked at milk consumption in 11 Oregon elementary schools before and after chocolate milk was taken out of cafeterias. With chocolate milk gone, researchers found a 10 percent decline in milk sales and a 29 percent increase in milk waste, with a corresponding decrease in protein and calcium consumption, and an increase in other fats in student lunches. In addition, eliminating chocolate milk was associated with 6.8 percent fewer students eating school lunches.
“Removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias may reduce calorie and sugar consumption,” the study concluded, “but it may also lead students to take less milk overall, drink less of the white milk they do take, and no longer purchase school lunch. Food service managers need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of eliminating chocolate milk and should consider alterative options that make white milk more convenient, attractive and normal to choose.”
Co-author Brian Wansink is a former head of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and an expert on eating behavior and behavioral economics.