Milking the Schools for Better Nutrition

There is a growing trend in theU.S.right now to encourage children to eat more healthfully and become more active. In light of the obesity epidemic, this is a good trend. Like all good things, though, there will come a time when it is taken too far. Leaving the activity and exercise trends out, it seems that some school systems have already begun pushing towards a good thing going too far.

Schools in districts across the country, most recently one in Chicago, are allowed to set their own guidelines for meals eaten at school. In an effort to ensure proper nutrition for all students, some of these schools have banned lunches brought from home. That’s right. Parents may no longer send a sandwich, veggies and a soda with their child in an effort to save on lunch money. Students are required to purchase lunch in the cafeteria or go hungry, which means the provider of student nutrition is the same institution that classifies ketchup as a vegetable.

Other school systems are taking a less extreme approach. Washington D.C. and the L.A. Unified School District are the latest to push for banning flavored milk in schools. Described by Ann Cooper of the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado as “soda in drag,” chocolate milk has become the symbol of the efforts to take junk food out of schools. Many of these school districts, however, have yet to remove the vending machines from schools, making some question why the dedication to child nutrition does not reach as far as cutting out the profits from vending machines.

As with any issue relating to government, food, and children, the issue of what foods are served in schools- and by whom- has become a shouting match by proponents of both sides, with a few voices attempting to find a middle path. Parents on one side are saying it is their responsibility to provide healthful food for their child’s lunch, while others say they are perfectly happy with the school making the nutritional decisions (exceptions are made for food allergies). Proponents of removing flavored milk, such as Ms. Cooper in Colorado, would rather see students drinking water with their meals than chocolate or strawberry milk, even though that means going without the calcium and vitamins supplied by milk. This issue is gaining much more attention in the national eye, because it has been addressed by so many more- and major- school systems. Pediatricians and nutritionists are divided over the benefits of flavored milk. It has been pointed out that white milk in schools is often whole milk, while flavored milk is often skim or 2%. This means that while the flavored milk is guilty of providing sugar, the white milk is providing more calories and fats.

The heart of the issue, and potentially its resolution, may be seen with the situation in Florida. Florida was considering a statewide ban on flavored milk in schools in an effort to encourage nutrition in schools, but the legislation was brought to a halt by one argument made by the dairy and farmers’ lobby: If flavored milk is to be banned, it should be after the nutritional value of everything available in schools- from the ketchup vegetable to the candy machine in the lobby- has been evaluated and other bans made.

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