A bipartisan measure to expand the healthy milk varieties schools can choose to serve has a chance to pass Congress.
The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which would return whole and 2% milk to school lunch menus, has been introduced in the past. But with a growing tide of science to back up its benefits, this year the legislation has advanced farther than ever before, with a possible House floor vote as early as this month. House Agriculture Committee Chair GT Thompson, R-PA, Representative Kim Schrier, D-WA, and Senators Roger Marshall, R-KS, and Peter Welch, D-VA, are leading the effort.
Allowing schools to serve 2% and whole milk is a commonsense solution to a national child nutrition problem. No other food delivers the same rich and unique nutrition package as milk, which provides 13 essential nutrients, including three of the four public health concerns. Milk plays an especially significant role in providing the nutrition critical for childhood health and development. Milk is the number one source of protein for kids 2 to 11, serves as the top source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for children ages 2 to 18, and provides seven of the 14 nutrients the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for optimal brain development.
But the benefits continue throughout a child’s education. Most kids and adolescents do not meet daily dairy intake recommendations, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That’s a problem. When kids don’t drink milk, they don’t consume the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act provides an answer. We know that school meals are an important source of milk for kids and adolescents — they provide 77% of total daily dairy milk consumption for low-income children ages 5 to 18. We also know that 2% and whole milk are the most popular milk varieties sold in stores, and we know that kids are more likely to drink milk when we provide choices they prefer. The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act expands the milk options available for schools to serve in the school meal nutrition programs to also include the most popular milk varieties, 2% and whole milk. This legislation would not require schools to serve 2% and whole milk, but it gives them the choice. And many would undoubtedly take it since kids will prefer the same milk they drink at home.
A growing body of science shows that dairy foods at all fat levels have a neutral or positive effect on health outcomes, ranging from heart disease to obesity and diabetes. More specific to children’s health, several recent studies (including systematic reviews and meta-analyses) found that high milkfat consumption was associated with lower childhood obesity, concluding that recommending lower-fat milk versions might not lower the risk of childhood obesity.
The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act is picking up momentum in both congressional chambers. NMPF has been working to build bipartisan support for the measure, including launching an advocacy campaign to connect individuals with their elected officials to voice their opinion. If you’d like your voice to be heard, our call-to-action found at https://www.nmpf.org/take-action/ offers a way to let your representative in Congress know this bill needs to become law.
Given the broad and growing support for the legislation, we are hopeful it will continue to advance, so we can see real progress toward improving children’s nutritional intake by increasing the healthy milk options available to schools.