Do we need flavored milk in schools?
In the U.S. today, we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. American life expectancy is shorter as result of our lifestyle. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes, and many will have other illnesses stemming from obesity.
Some ways we can confront the obesity epidemic in children are to change the way we feed them and educate them about how what they put into their mouths directly affects their health. The importance of making this connection between diet and health is absolutely crucial to improving the health of our nation.
One contribution in our own community could be to eliminate flavored milks (chocolate and strawberry) from our schools just like the nation's largest school district (Los Angeles Unified) did on July 1.
Why serve flavored milk in the first place? Why are we disguising the taste of milk with sugar and artificial flavors and colors? The dairy industry argues that children will not drink unflavored milk and that by adding sugar, this will help children get their proper calcium intake.
However, there are plenty of foods that are good sources of calcium, such as cheeses, leafy greens, calcium-fortified orange juice, legumes (beans), almonds, sesame seeds, salmon, figs, kiwi and, yes, regular milk.
Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D. and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said: "Flavored milk is not the nutritional equivalent of unflavored milk. It is significantly higher in calories, sugar and sodium and usually contains artificial colors and flavors."
An analysis posted at Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution website (jamieoliver.com) says: "If your child drinks (an 8-ounce carton of flavored milk) at breakfast and lunch, they could be getting 8 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Over a school year, that adds up to almost 2 gallons of sugar."
As a child's body grows into its adult size, it needs food to grow new cells. Those cells need to be built from highly nutritious foods, not from food-like substances filled with chemicals and sugar.
As parents, are we paying attention to the amount of sugar our children are consuming on a daily basis? Are we creating a lifetime of bad habits by condoning sugar-flavored milk, coffees, sodas and cereals? Where does it end? The last thing our children need is more drinks packed with sugar in school.
We need to begin teaching and exemplifying healthy eating habits at a much younger age. Having a healthily nourished body can only create better opportunities for learning.
Kevin Cotter is managing general partner at New Earth Market in Yuba City.