There’s been a lot of news lately about “banning flavored milk” in schools. These misguided efforts attempt to address childhood obesity. Discussions are buzzing among parents: “Should I allow my child to drink chocolate milk?” There seems to be a lot of different viewpoints, but for me, it’s a no-brainer.

There’s no question that childhood obesity is an issue, but for children to achieve and maintain healthy weights over a lifetime, they must be physically active and overcome eating behaviors, as well as learn about healthy choices. If we take imperfect choices away, how can they learn how to balance them and choose them in the appropriate portion and frequency over their lifetime?

If you really want to get right down to it, children need only two types of beverages: milk and water. Less than half of children ages 2 to 8 and only about one-quarter of children ages 9 to 19 meet the recommended dairy food intake. The new MyPlate graphic launched by the USDA clearly shows that dairy should be a part of each meal.

Flavored milk can satisfy that dairy spot and offers a pleasant taste that most kids love. Unlike other beverages with added sugar (that only provide calories as sugar), milk provides many essential nutrients:

  • Calcium. Each 8-ounce serving of low fat milk provides about 300 mg of bone-building calcium
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is important to our immune system
  • Vitamin A in milk keeps our skin and eyes healthy
  • Protein helps build and maintain muscle tissue. There’s 8 grams of protein in each 8-ounce glass of low fat milk.

Flavored milk can fill in the gaps in a child’s diet, and since so many students prefer flavored milk with lunch at school, removing it will likely reduce their total daily milk intake (and therefore eliminate adequate intakes of important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D). A school in Pennsylvania reports that over 60% of school milk purchased is chocolate, 10% is vanilla-flavored, 9% choose either skim or 1% white milk, and the rest are choosing other beverages. These numbers speak for themselves.

Flavored milk is not causing the childhood obesity epidemic. Too much sugar in the diet is certainly be a factor, but there are many other foods and beverage that could be removed from the diet instead. Keep the milk, ditch the excess junk.