A new report from the National Dairy Council concerning milk consumption at school has found that fewer students are drinking low-fat and fat-free milk — and may be missing out on key nutrients.
The paper, "Fluid Milk in School Programs," was discussed during a Capitol Hill briefing in an effort to keep legislators informed as they reauthorize school nutrition programs this year.
Nutrition programs were originally placed within schools in an effort to combat malnutrition during World War II. As time has gone on, concerns about obesity among children and the associated diseases, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, have become more important. When talking about today's children in 2004, Surgeon General Richard Carmona said they were "the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."
In order to accommodate the new concerns, school meals have evolved through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which put an emphasis on nutrition standards for school meals. Milk offerings changed along with that, as lower fat levels are now being offered and flavored milks have been reformulated to reduce the amount of sugar they contain.
According to the report, the decline in milk consumption by schoolchildren is a cause for concern due to the important nutrients it adds to a child's daily diet. The majority of schoolchildren do not currently meet the federal dietary recommendations for dairy products, which suggest three daily servings of milk or dairy foods for children 9 or older. Adolescents may need four servings in order to adequately accommodate bone growth.
On average, preschool aged children are the only ones to fully meet the dairy recommendations. As children enter the adolescent stage, they tend to choose less-nutritious beverages over milk.
"The decline in milk consumption is worrisome because it is difficult to replace the nutrient package found in milk with other foods, without adding extra calories and cost," Jean Ragalie-Carr, RD, president of the National Dairy Council, told briefing participants.
The National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association added that milk is the leading source of 9 essential nutrients for children between the ages of 2 and 18. In addition, 8 grams of protein are held within each eight-ounce serving, reports Janell Thomas for Farm Futures.
In an effort to raise awareness over child nutrition issues, Top Chef judge Gail Simmons is joining along with anti-hunger advocates and the officials who serve school lunches every day. With the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act set to expire on September 30, the group is concerned that healthy lunch choices, such as oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, will begin to disappear.
"The meals we serve are so important to these young people," executive director of meal programs for New York City's public schools Dennis Barrett said. "If they're not getting the nutrients that they need for those cells to function then the wonderful teachers and the great curriculum that we have are not getting as big an impact as they could get."