Add Sugar to Get the Milk Down: Get the BS (Bad Science) Out of Schools

Everyone knows those “Got Milk?” campaigns that depict famous celebrities and athletes with plain or chocolate milk mustaches, but do they support health? In the 1940s, the US government began subsidizing milk in schools to ensure kids got more nutrients like protein, vitamin D3, and calcium. Are these healthy options or is chocolate milk a Trojan horse?

Posted on | Mike Roizen, MD | Comments ()

Chocolate milk is not the only way to get kids enough calcium, so 1 thumb down for lack of creativity, a thumb down if full-fat milk, a thumb down for added sugar, and 2 thumbs down for teaching BS in schools - and an added BOO (not MOO) to the milk board.

Everyone knows those “Got Milk?” campaigns that depict famous celebrities and athletes with plain or chocolate milk mustaches, but do they support health? In the 1940s, the US government began subsidizing milk in schools to ensure kids got more nutrients like protein, vitamin D3, and calcium. Are these healthy options or is chocolate milk a Trojan horse?

Seventy-one percent of milk served in the US is flavored and the vast majority is chocolate milk. Chocolate milk can have almost twice as much sugar as plain low-fat milk. The sugar is either added cane sugar or that food felon, high fructose corn syrup. Now it’s hard to picture what that means, but this might help: a 1 cup portion of chocolate milk typically contains 5 or more teaspoons of sugar. That's almost as much added sugar as a cup of regular (kill your arteries) soda.


Public schools in Berkeley, CA; Boulder, CO; and now Washington DC have all banned flavored (read sugar added) milk in public school cafeterias and Florida school officials are considering it. These actions outrage some school officials and milk processors since they think flavored milk is the only way to get students to drink milk. They feel that it is better to get some milk even with added sugar than none at all. A Washington Post reporter says, “Unlike soda or cinnamon rolls or any of the other sweets that kids confront at lunchtime, flavored milk actually mainlines some of the things kids really do need to grow. It's the old "spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" way of thinking.”

Seriously? You want Mary Poppins to guide your kids’ food choices? Ann Cooper, who runs a school lunch reform initiative in Boulder, CO, has the perfect response: “saying we need to add sugar and flavoring to milk to get kids to drink it is like saying we need to feed kids apple pie if they don’t like apples.” We agree. Us YOU Docs think all added sugars should be banned. Skim milk is great for those past age 13, and regular or 2% for those under age 13.


A study sponsored by milk processors is quoted as the reason to keep flavored milk. Elementary school kids drank 35% less milk at school when flavored milk is not offered. We think like Ann Cooper, encouraging such compromises as letting the kids eat fried zucchini grown in lead contaminated soil isn't a way to encourage health. Now you know our view on BS (bad science): we don’t stand for it; do you think the findings could be biased because the milk people sponsored, monitored, and chose the study sites? Flavored milk does not make milk proud. In fact it taints the milk board with promoting unhealthy instead of promoting healthy.


If this debate is about calcium consumption, make skim milk big; add Popeye the Sailor to your poster. There are tons of options that are dairy and non-dairy to add calcium. Real fruit mixed with no sugar added low-fat yogurt is a wonderful choice. So are kale, spinach, soybeans, almonds, sesame seeds, and figs (not hidden from your mom like we did peas at the bottom of our milk glasses when we didn't want to eat them; what were we thinking?) . 


If you feel as strongly that BS should not be taught at school, talk to your school officials. Food choices should foster learning not make your kids less likely to learn after lunch. .

Blog written by Mike Roizen, MD
Dr. Roizen is a past chair of a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee and a former editor for 6 medical journals with...