As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases the final regulations governing the reimbursable school meal program, the International Dairy Foods Association has expressed concern over the restrictions on flavored milk, which they fear could reduce overall milk consumption in schools.
This comes at a time when one out of three American children is overweight or obese. In an attempt to strengthen the nutritional standards in schools, the Obama has implemented the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which aims to improve the quality of meals served to students in the nation's cafeterias. The new USDA rules for reimbursable meals will put in place the provisions from this act.
The act requires schools to offer eight ounces of fluid milk with each school lunch and breakfast. But it has banned all milk products that are not low-fat or fat-free plain milk and fat-free flavored milks.
The new rule also includes yogurt and cheese as meat alternates for meals, allowing schools the flexibility to incorporate cheese, pizza and other foods containing dairy into weekly meal plans.
Connie Tipton, IDFA president and CEO, said:
"We applaud the strong support of dairy as a vital component of a healthy diet and appreciate the priority attention USDA has given to improving the foods and beverages served in our nation's schools.
"However, we are disappointed that USDA has placed limits on milk varieties ahead of constraints on competing beverages widely available today."
Milk will continue to face tough competition from other "competing beverages" sold at schools until the USDA issue rules governing the process.
"Eliminating low-fat flavored milks, which kids like, and still allowing a wide variety a la carte beverages like juice beverages, sports drinks and soda at schools will reduce milk consumption," said Tipton.
New research has shown that much of the decline in milk consumption among children and teens is attributed to the wide availability of other beverages at schools, says the IDFA.
"When beverages other than milk, 100-percent juice and water are offered, total milk consumption at school drops 9 percent to 28 percent."
Earlier in the year the IDFA sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighting this continuing decline in milk consumption. It warned that schools might use USDA's final school meal rule as their basis for all school milk purchases.
The letter said:
"Our industry would prefer an attainable restriction on added sugars or a calorie limit rather than the exclusion of low-fat flavored milk as proposed in the school meal rule."
The concern has also been shared by members of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA), also wrote to the secretary asking for consistent standards for milk and all beverages sold in schools.
"Given the nutritional value of milk, including low-fat flavored milk, we are deeply concerned that USDA would take action that could drastically reduce milk consumption in schools in favor of less healthy alternatives," they said.
This comes as high and middle schools in Sartell, Minnesota have implemented the NuVal Nutrition Guide in an attempt to promote healthy choices among their students.
The district and a CentraCare Foundation-sponsored group called Better Living, Exercise and Nutrition Daily (B.L.E.N.D.) announced their innovate sensible eating initiative, whereby , food is rated on a scale of 1 to 100.
Around 40 percent of the menu will be marked at the Sartell-St. Stephen schools. The rest of the menu will be attributed with marks by the end of the year.
Sartell is the first school district in Minnesota, and the second the United States, to attach NuVal ratings to cafeteria and vending machine food.