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Chocolate milk in school: Concerns arise over sugar, but not everyone is worried

Posted: 7:02 PM, Sep 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-30 13:36:57-04
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Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com . See more 360 stories here .

Should school cafeterias serve chocolate milk? That question is once again making headlines, as the New York Public School district considers banning the beverage.

Denver7 wanted to find out how Colorado schools feel about chocolate milk.

Concerns over sugar intake

Boulder Valley School District Food Services Director Ann Cooper made the decision to eliminate chocolate milk 11 years ago, citing the rising childhood obesity epidemic.

“We have to own that, and one of the ways we can do it is to decrease the amount of sugar kids are consuming,” Cooper said. Her district is the only one in the metro that doesn't serve chocolate milk in the school cafeteria.

Dairy Industry and most metro area schools say benefits of milk outweigh sugar concerns

Colorado’s dairy industry supports keeping both milk and chocolate milk in schools, saying the nutritional benefits outweigh the small amount of added sugar.

“What we see is that when flavored milk is removed from schools kids tend to take less milk, they tend to drink less, they tend to waste more milk, and a lot of times they don’t participate in the school meal program as much,” said Jenna Allen, a spokeswoman for Dairy Max, and a registered dietitian.

Allen says children need essential nutrients from milk, like calcium and potassium, and they get the same nutrients in chocolate milk.

Denver, Jefferson County and Douglas County schools all sent statements explaining why they continue to serve chocolate milk. DPS said the few schools that have tested eliminating chocolate milk have seen overall milk consumption decline.

Schools in the metro area serve 8 ounce containers of fat free chocolate milk, along with a plain milk option. DPS says its chocolate milk has just 6 more grams of added sugar than the white milk. The American Heart association recommends children under 18 get no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day.

A hospital dietitian's viewpoint

Carly Chason, a registered dietitian at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said she understands why schools may be conflicted about eliminating chocolate milk.

“There are a lot of things that go into making those school meals healthy and balanced, accessible for kids, and things they want to eat,” she said.

Even so, she agrees that kids don't need more sugar in their diets. Children's Hospital Colorado is a "zero added sugar" zone.

“That goes along with the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association that are all saying you really need to limit the sugar kids are getting,” Chason said.

What do parents think?

Among parents, opinions vary, but one parent and running coach we spoke to said she’s okay with everything in moderation.

“(Chocolate milk) is a good source of fat, it’s a good source of protein, so it can be a good way to refuel your body,” said Allison Rieman, coordinator of the Denver chapter of the Healthy Kids Running Series.

But she said for young runners, water is the best way to stay hydrated.

“For a 2-year-old running a 50 yard dash, you probably haven’t worked up enough energy to get the chocolate milk,” she said.