WASHINGTON, April 17, 2014 – A new study suggests that schools that ban chocolate milk for health reasons may be inviting some unintended – and negative – consequences.

Researchers from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs looked at what happened at 11 elementary schools in Oregon after chocolate milk was banned from cafeterias and replaced with skim milk. Chocolate milk accounts for more than 60 percent of the milk available in schools. The results?

Total milk sales fell 10 percent, indicating that many students substituted white for chocolate milk, the researchers found. And even though more students were taking white milk, they wasted 29 percent more than before.

“Nutritionally, after the milk substitution, students on average consumed less sugar and fewer calories, but also consumed less protein and calcium,” the research team said in a news release. “Additionally, the ban may have been a factor in a 7 percent decrease in participation in the school district’s lunch program.”

Nicole Zammit, former assistance director of nutrition services at the Eugene School District, said she wasn’t surprised that banning chocolate milk had negative consequences.

“Given that the role of the federal school meal program is to provide nutritious meals to students who may otherwise have no access to healthy foods,  I wouldn’t recommend banning flavored milk unless you have a comprehensive plan in place to compensate for the lost nutrients when kids stop drinking milk altogether,” she told the Cornell team.

Brian Wansink, one of the study’s authors and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said schools should try other methods of encouraging white milk consumption without resorting to bans on flavored milk.

“Make white milk appear more convenient and more normal to select,” he said. “Put the white milk in the front of the cooler and make sure that at least a third to a half of all the milk is white."

The study, by Wansink along with Andrew Hanks and David Just, was the subject of an article in the peer-reviewed on-line journal PLOS one, published by the Public Library of Science.


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