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Associated Press’ Big Chocolate Milk Fail

May 17th, 2011 · 4 Comments · Posted in kids, school food

The debate rages on

An Associate Press report last week on the controversy surrounding flavored milk in schools was widely reprinted in media outlets across the country, from the Washington Post to Huffington Post to Yahoo! In it, the AP declared that a number of professional and medical groups–including the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics–had issued a “joint statement” in favor of flavored milk, arguing that “the nutritional value of flavored low-fat or skim milk outweighs the harm of added sugar.”

There’s just one problem with the story: no such “joint statement” was ever issued. The AP is simply the latest victim of a well-oiled dairy industry propaganda campaign designed to fend off efforts to remove chocolate milk from school cafeterias. Not only did the medical groups AP mentioned never issue a statement supporting dairy’s claims, some have come out squarely against the practice of routinely feeding kids milk tarted up with sugar.

Meanwhile, two of the organizations cited in the AP story as favoring flavored milk–the School Nutrition Association and the American Dietetic Association–are hardly impartial. They both have financial ties to the dairy industry and have been aiding industry efforts to keep chocolate milk in the lunch line. The National Dairy Council and the Milk Processors Education Program–or MilkPEP, an industry group that engineers media efforts such as the “Got Milk?” campaign–are both dues-paying “patrons” of the School Nutrition Association. Dairy has a seat on the SNA’s “industry advisory board.” Likewise, the National Dairy Council is a “sponsor” of the American Dietetic Association, which has similar arrangements with Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kellogg’s and school food service provider Aramark.

As I reported previously, the School Nutrition Association, representing thousands of the nation’s school food service directors, last year worked closely with its dairy patrons to promote a “study” paid for by dairy interests that purports to show many kids will not drink milk if it isn’t flavored. None of this was mentioned in the the Associated Press report.

When I contacted the Associated Press about getting a copy of the “joint statement” it cited, I received an e-mail from AP reporter Christina Hoag containing her correspondence with School Nutrition Association spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner. In that exchange, Heavner linked to an April 13 SNA policy statement on flavored milk echoing the dairy industry’s campaign language:

“Leading health and nutrition organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, the National Medical Association, and School Nutrition Association, have all expressed their support for low-fat and fat-free milk in schools, including flavored milk.  The groups cited studies demonstrating that children who drink flavored milk meet more of their nutrient needs; do not consume more added sugar, fat or calories; and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers.”

When I asked Heavner if she knew of a “joint statement” issued by the groups cited by AP, she referred me to a nearly two-year-old press release issued by the American Dietetic Association using uncannily similar verbiage:

“Leading health and nutrition organizations – including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association and School Nutrition Association – recognize the valuable role that low-fat or fat-free milk, including flavored milk, can play in meeting daily nutrient needs, and helping kids get the daily servings of milk recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans…Studies have shown that children who drink flavored milk meet more of their nutrient needs; do not consume more added sugar, fat or calories; and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers.”

Not surprisingly, the “studies” referred to by the School Nutrition Association and the American Dietetic Association were  funded by the dairy industry. As I have reported elsewhere, dairy interests have created a kind of public relations echo chamber, using paid proxies to repeat the messages that emerge from “research” dairy pays for, all in an effort to convince parents, pediatricians and school food service directors that removing flavored milk from schools would pose dire health consequences for children.

When I asked the American Heart Association about the release issued by the American Dietetic Association, and whether the heart association had ever been involved in a “joint statement,” spokeswoman Kanika Lewis said: “From what I understand, ADA used our science for the argument, but we didn’t actually sign off on it.”

Citing a growing body of science showing strong links between sugar and risks for heart disease, the American Heart Association has asked the USDA to impose a limit on the amount of sugar that can be served in school meals. Regarding flavored milk specifically, the assocation has told the USDA that new meal guidelines should restrict to 130 the number of calories in an eight-ounce serving of milk as a way of reducing the amount of sugar children are exposed to in the federally-subsidized meal program.

Likewise, the American Academy of Family Physicians lists flavored milk along with sodas and sports drinks as “unhealthy habits to avoid,” and advises that “children should have no more than one 12-ounce serving of these types of drinks each day.”

Millions of parents rely on medical authorities for advice on whether they should offer flavored milk to their children as a way of providing calcium and Vitamin D. The last thing they need is misleading information about the dietary habits medical organizations actually recommend. In my next report, I will attempt to get those various medical organizations to state exactly what their positions are.

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  • jenna Food w/ Kid Appeal

    thanks ed, look forward to reading the next piece in the series.

  • Christina @ Spoonfed

    Love this. I spent the better part of an afternoon last week trying to find that “joint statement” and ultimately arrived at the same conclusion you did. Thanks for doing the additional legwork on this. I’m posting my view on chocolate milk tomorrow, and I’ve linked to some of your work. Now I’ll add this piece, too. And yes, looking forward to the follow-up.

  • Dukan

    Could you please explain why the Dairy Industry is promoting chocolate milk when they could by promoting ordinary milk instead. For example is chocolate milk fortified with other minerals and vitamins, does it produce a better profit margin, are they afraid kids won’t drink ordinary milk, etc.

  • Ivana Kadija

    Dukan, when I got choc milk limited to once per week from Feb-Jun last year at one elementary school, a lot of kids tossed their plain milk and “held out” for the “treat” day. We and our children have what Dr. Oz calls an infantalized palate that craves sweet taste. If you are used to getting 3.25 tsp in a cup of milk… the plain stuff just doesn’t taste right. (i got that same ream of Dairy Board “junk research” from the Asst. Supt. at the beginning of this year when he reinstated flavored milk.

    additional food for thought, Ed and all…
    1) “do not consume more added sugar, fat or calories; and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers.” I love this study. Basically they are comparing soda drinkers to drinkers of flavored AND unflavored milk, based on RECALL – a notoriously flawed methodology. Perhaps that’s why this study is not recognized in any real medical journals.

    2) The AHA put out a report 2 years ago stating that they recommend ALL Americans limit sugar to 1/2 of discretionary calories. Uh, that’s 6 tsp PER DAY for an inactive (less than 30 min/day) elementary boy or girl. 8oz of chocolate milk contain 3.25tsp of sugar or hfcs. Do the math.

    3) as i keep telling people… INTAKE is irrelevant. to quote Dr. Robert Lustig.. “it’s not what you eat, it’s what you do with what you eat” There is not one iota of scientific evidence that drinking flavored milk actually helps build children’s bones.

    Our nation is grossly overweight because we eat and drink sugars daily in astronomical quantitates. And it has to stop. That’s why i fielded this petition to “restrict sugar in our schools”. Charlottesville has almost 500 signatures.

    Feel free to copy the text and field your own in your town.

    My reference links can be found at

    Let’s stop this insanity!