SMMUSD HDQTRS — First it was eggs (too high in cholesterol), and then carbohydrates in everything from a slice of bread to that found in your “apple a day” — every category of food gets maligned for the ever-increasing problem of childhood and adult obesity in the United States.

Locals have their sights set on yet another malfeasant food group, that of flavored milk, which has been demonized in recent months for adding unnecessary sugars into the diets of school-age children.

Parents spoke before the Board of Education during a public comment period on Thursday to request that the board consider going the way of the Los Angeles Unified School District and ban flavored milks from school sites.

LAUSD, the largest school district in the nation, banned chocolate and strawberry flavored milk last Tuesday on the recommendation of Superintendent John Deasy. Deasy is a former superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Deasy put forward the proposal after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver criticized the district for serving flavored milk, which has more added sugar than plain low- or non-fat milk.

Parents, both at the meeting and in e-mail communications with the board, said that they felt the time has come to make a similar move at SMMUSD.

“They thought that L.A. Unified had done a good thing,” said Board President Jose Escarce, who is also a medical doctor. “Several came and made public comment, and really urged the district to follow L.A. Unified’s decision here to consider banning flavored milk.”

The board was unable to discuss the topic because it wasn’t on the agenda, but it did direct staff to take a long, hard look at not only flavored milks but all kinds of flavored beverages served on district campuses.

“The issue is, of course, bigger than flavored milk,” Escarce said.

There are many sources of empty calories in children’s diets, particularly artificially sweetened drinks, of which flavored milks are just one kind, Escarce said.

“The idea is using this as a catalyst in looking at the drinks we’re serving and what to do about it,” he said.

Flavored milks are getting a bad reputation, but they have good and bad points, according to the American Heart Association.

According to the association’s website, sugars make foods more enjoyable for kids and adults alike. When they’re added to nutrient-rich foods, like milk, studies show that the quality of children’s diets improve and “there is no negative impact on their weight.”

Erin Neistat Morse, the chief clinical dietitian at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, said that the issue of flavored milk can go both ways.

Childhood obesity, which has tripled since 1980 to 17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 years old, must be blamed on more than chocolate milk, Neistat Morse said.

“We live in a nation where kids live on the computer and don’t go outside,” she said. “There’s also soda consumption, and the availability of affordable fruits and veggies.”

Of course, the added colors and flavors in strawberry and chocolate milk don’t add any nutritional benefit to the base product, and would be better left out.

“It’d be great if the schools got together and did an exciting campaign around plain milk,” Neistat Morse said. “It might help if they don’t have all the options and just drink what’s there.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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