Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest school district, has banned flavored milk from its school menus. In a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, the LA Board of Education approved a five-year, $100-million dairy contract that excludes chocolate and strawberry milk, the Los Angeles Times reports. LAUSD serves approximately 650,000 meals a day at 1,000 sites.
The decision was applauded by chef Jamie Oliver, whose show Food Revolution has recently drawn attention to the poor nutrition of LAUSD school lunches and breakfasts. Sugar has been a specific target of Oliver’s war against unhealthy food. In one episode of Food Revolution, Oliver filled a school bus with sand to represent the average sugar content of LAUSD’s menu.
Speaking to the LA Times, Oliver said Tuesday’s decision was “a giant step forward for the health and future of 680,000 kids in Los Angeles, and leads the way for more school districts around the country to follow.”
In 2004, LAUSD banned sodas, but according to the Times, one cup of strawberry-flavored milk contains as much sugar as a cup of Coke (26 grams). The chocolate milk available to students has 20 grams of sugar.
Research suggests that sugar is a leading contributer to obesity and type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially in children. The American Heart Association recommends children ages 4-8 restrict their sugar consumption to 130 calories (3 teaspoons) or less each day. As kids age and increase their overall calorie intake, the maximum should not exceed 8 teaspoons.
Emily Ventura, of USC’s Childhood Obesity Research Center, told the LA Times that a school breakfast of sugary cereal, coffee cake, juice and chocolate milk would contain 204 calories of added sugar — and remember, that’s just breakfast.
But some officials are concerned that Los Angeles students won’t drink milk once these flavored, sweetened options are unavailable. 60% of milk consumption in LAUSD is chocolate or strawberry. To receive federal reimbursements for school meal programs, district students must take three of the four items offered for breakfast, and four of the five items at lunch. Will kids ditch the lunch line altogether if they can’t get their favorite drink?
No, say experts, as long as the district introduces new menu items and explains to students why chocolate and strawberry milk have been axed. New options such as spinach tortellini in butternut squash sauce, California sushi rolls and a variety of vegetarian and ethnic foods are being proposed for the fall.
Matthew Sharp, senior advocate with the California Food Policy Advocates and a proponent of school food reform, is optimistic about the changes to LAUSD. “[B]y the fall the district will be a national leader,” he told the LA Times.
Photo credit: Jeff McNeill (Creative Commons Share Alike)