Why banning chocolate milk doesn't make students healthier
Chocolate milk cartons are seen at the Belmont Senior High cafeteria in Los Angeles, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. (AP / Damian Dovarganes)
Jesse Noseworthy, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, January 15, 2015 10:10AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 15, 2015 2:17PM EST
Schools aiming to improve students' health by removing chocolate milk from their cafeteria menus may not achieve the desired results, according to the results of research conducted in Saskatchewan.
Researchers from the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan found that, rather than encouraging students to choose the less sugar-laden white milk, removing the chocolate-flavoured option at elementary schools simply led to a reduction in milk consumption of 48 per cent.
Researcher Hassan Vatanparast says the results of the study point to one big piece of advice for schools: to "hold up" on their policy to eliminate flavoured milk.
The study was designed to measure milk consumption in elementary schools, and find out what contributes to students milk choices.
Students in Grades 1 to 8, at six schools, were monitored by the researchers over a 12-week period.
During weeks one to four, and nine to twelve, both plain and flavoured milk were offered, but in weeks five to eight, only plain milk was offered.
Later on, when students in Grades 5 through 8 were asked in focus groups to share what influences whether they choose to drink milk, researchers were told taste, cost, convenience and variety were all key factors.
In the study published Wednesday, the authors say that many elementary schools have begun eliminating flavoured milk due to concerns over sugar levels. But cutting out the sugar has other unintended consequences, they say, noting that children who choose not to drink any milk at all aren’t getting the calcium and vitamin D they need.
Vatanparast said that milk consumption has been declining for a while as other flavoured beverages that aren't as healthy rise in popularity.
"It's really hard to have all of the nutrients that milk has," said Vatanparast. "It's obvious from our study that children enjoy flavoured milk more (than plain milk)."
The Canadian study comes on the heels of similar research conducted south of the border involving 11 elementary schools in Oregon. When those students lost the chocolate milk option, researchers say they chose 10 per cent less milk, and there was a 29 per cent jump in how much milk was wasted.