Source: Dairy Council of California’s Winter issue of DCC News
By sharing its nutritional expertise in public forums and establishing partnerships with like-minded health professionals, Dairy Council of California is helping turn back a tide that threatens to sweep flavored milk out of California school meal programs.
In just the past few months, Dairy Council efforts helped persuade the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board to vote to preserve chocolate milk’s place in the cafeteria, and prospects for achieving the same result appear good in other regions.
Recently the Los Angeles Unified School District banned the beverage, several Bay area schools did the same, and suddenly school districts throughout California have felt the pressure to eliminate the beverage.
Grassroots effort launched
Dairy Council launched a proactive grassroots effort to correct widely distributed misinformation about flavored milk and present credible information showing educators and parents just how nutrient-rich the beverage is and why it’s so important to the health of children.
“Dairy Council moved quickly and assertively,” said Ashley Rosales, R.D., Dairy Council project manager leading the effort. “The stakes are incredibly high. If flavored milk is banned, schoolchildren could be harmed by losing irreplaceable nutrients vital for their healthy development.”
Fortunately, Dairy Council had some key advantages up front, Rosales said. “In addition to having nutrition science on its side, staff could point to the industry’s success in recent years in making flavored milks healthier by steadily reducing sugar content and calories. Today’s formulation has only about one and half teaspoons of added sugar, and the caloric content is
within 35 to 40 calories of regular milk.
“Just as importantly, we discovered there are health professionals, educators and other opinion leaders in every community who believe the move to ban flavored milk has been an overreaction—caused in part by the child obesity crisis—and that eliminating the beverage would be more harmful than beneficial to students,” Rosales said. “We’ve established relationships with those willing to take a stand publicly and provided them with background information for use in public presentations.”
Santa Monica was first
The first test of Dairy Council’s strategy came in Santa Monica in August. More than 1,000 school district residents signed a petition requesting a ban on flavored milk because “too much added sugar in the diet is dangerous and can eventually lead to diabetes.” The board held a public hearing on the issue.
“Given the public pressure and coming on the heels of the ban in Los Angeles schools right next door, we were unsure exactly what kind of impact we could have in Santa Monica,” said Dori Coetzee, R.D., Dairy Council territory manager and former school food service director. “However, when I spoke on the merits of flavored milk and was followed by a
number of health professionals and even a former Los Angeles school food service nutritionist who really support the beverage, we could begin to see the debate turn.”
One of those health professionals, Mayer Davidson, M.D., former president of the American Diabetes Association, told board members, “Sugar does not cause diabetes and
chocolate milk does not cause obesity. We have enough vitamin D and calcium deficiencies in low-income kids. Don’t make their risk factors worse.”
The board ultimately voted 5 to 2 to keep chocolate milk, while allowing parents the option of eliminating the choice for their own children. After that success, Dairy Council had to immediately turn its attention to Fresno, where flavored milk was suddenly under attack in the
middle of farm country.
“At first, the anti-flavored milk sentiment was raging and it seemed like a ban was very possible,” said Rosales. “But at a large community meeting, their support seemed to fade away and we stuck with our strategy of broadening the discussion.”
Even school officials spoke at the meeting in support of chocolate milk, including two from the district in nearby Hanford. “Chocolate milk should not be banned. I’m totally on board with the fight against childhood obesity, but I don’t think the cause of that problem is chocolate milk,” said Superintendent Todd Barlow. Added Leonard Dias, school board president, “I think it’s ludicrous to ban chocolate milk. Any time you get kids to drink any kind of milk it’s a good thing.”
Ultimately, the ban did not go through and chocolate milk remains in Fresno-area schools. With the grassroots effort well underway, Dairy Council is also working at theorganizational level to garner support for flavored milk. It has reached out to a number of statewide associations of health professional, teachers, school food service directors and other influential leaders to inform them about the debate and disseminate information. The California Dietetic Association is already encouraging its members to support the effort.
“We are pleased with the extent to which we have impacted the flavored milk
debate so far,” Rosales said. “That’s why Dairy Council will remain vigilant and act quickly whenever we identify a threat. If we do, there’s a good chance we can maintain flavored milk as an essential, highly nutritious option for millions of California school children while giving
them a lifelong value for our product.”