This isn’t any sort of breaking news, but kids prefer their milk flavored. In fact, about 67% of the milk that moves through U.S. schools is flavored.
And, when kids are offered flavored milk, whether at home, in school, or out to eat, they drink more milk and come closer to meeting their daily recommendation for three servings of dairy and the nutrients that come with it compared to those who don’t.
While this may make logical sense to us, it doesn’t mean we don’t need research to support this point. Flavored milk sometimes becomes a wrongful target of parents, schools, or others who feel it contains too much sugar and should be removed from school menus and be replaced by unflavored options or nondairy alternatives.
This is why National Dairy Council (NDC) has invested in research and development to innovate lower-sugar flavored milks in schools to counter the narrative. Facts matter, and they came through loudly in a new study published last December that used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The program is led by the National Center for Health Statistics to assess the health and nutritional status of U.S. adults and children, and the flavored milk analysis was funded by the dairy checkoff.
The results showed children ages 2 to 18 who drank flavored milk consumed approximately one cup equivalent more total dairy than nonconsumers. The increase in milk directly contributed to higher intakes of vitamins A, D, and B-12, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
NDC uses research such as this in a variety of ways.
First, it’s shared across our state and regional checkoff federation so these teams can use it locally. This complements some great work being done across the U.S., such as the video “A Pediatrician’s Perspective on Milk” produced by the American Dairy Association Mideast.
The American Dairy Association North East also is leading an effort with support from other industry organizations in response to a push in New York City to remove chocolate milk from its schools. This research will help educate and inform on the science of its work.
From an NDC perch, the flavored milk research is shared with leading national health and wellness organizations, such as the School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Feeding America. Most recently, this research was part of an educational package of information we shared with the Urban School Food Alliance (USFA). This organization represents 18 of the largest U.S. school districts – nourishing 4.2 million students – and its executive director requested flavored milk research proof points to share with her members.
Beyond schools, research on milk and flavored milk is shared during the public comment process with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee during the various cycles of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Additionally, NDC submitted public comments on the restoration of 1% flavored milk in schools to USDA in December of 2020. We used previous flavored milk research as a basis for our comments, and USDA released its final rule on Feb. 4 allowing schools to serve 1% flavored milk.
While there is no federal standard for the amount of added sugar in flavored milk, dairy processors and the dairy community should be commended for their work to innovate in this area. Since 2007, milk companies have reduced added sugars by 57%. Current flavored milk available at schools has an average of 7.1 grams of added sugar, and innovation in this area continues.
It’s unlikely the attacks on flavored milk will stop. But thanks to checkoff-funded research coupled with milk’s natural nutritional package, we have a chance to counter the push and allow schoolchildren the opportunity to make a healthy choice.