As a mother of a middle school girl attending the neighborhood public school, I found myself very interested that a small group of parents have asked the school board to ban chocolate milk. This prompted some research and what I found was alarming. I learned that my daughter, who doesn’t like the taste of plain milk, is not getting as much calcium as she needs to build strong bones to last a lifetime.

I also learned a few things about chocolate milk: Chocolate milk is actually a very important source of protein, vitamins, and calcium — so much so that flavored milk is on every credible medical association’s list of foods that schools are encouraged to offer.

There is no study linking chocolate milk to obesity. There are studies that link the consumption of soda, sweetened teas and sports drinks to obesity, but not chocolate milk, which was already served in schools long before the obesity crisis hit.

The facts are that a container of non-fat chocolate milk is not the same as a Hershey bar or “soda in can,” as the proponents of banning it like to claim. Soda or a chocolate bar each contain three times as much added sugar as the chocolate milk offered in our schools; soda and candy don’t contain milk’s nutrients either.

There is well-documented medical community concern over calcium and vitamin D deficiencies in children, particularly pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, like my daughter.

This is why the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association and School Nutrition Association all support the valuable role of low-fat or fat-free milk — including chocolate milk — in getting the daily servings of milk recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies exist in American children even with chocolate milk on the menu of nearly every school district in the country.

The problem would surely worsen were they all to remove what is the only type of milk that many children are willing to drink.

While milk isn’t the only source of these important nutrients, it is without a doubt the most effective way to deliver them — one would have to consume 4 cups of tofu, more than 3 cups of broccoli, or nearly 4 cups of kidney beans to get the same amount of calcium as in one cup of milk. My daughter isn’t crazy about these foods either, and I think that’s pretty common.

Data reported by California’s Department of Education shows that 25.6 percent of the students in the SMMUSD qualify for free/reduced lunch.

Why should this matter in the debate? Because, to qualify even for reduced price meals, a family of four (two adults, two kids), has to make less than about $41,000 a year, which means these children are living in families with incomes close to the poverty level, in nutritionally-insecure homes, and who may not be getting much else in the way of balanced meals, including milk, other than at school. How will removing a ready source of calcium from their kids’ diets help these families, and how will trying to replace that calcium affect their grocery bills?

Are there empty calories in our school menus? I would argue there probably are. However, instead of arguing about milk, we as parents should be working together to suggest ways to improve the overall menu.

There are a number of much more likely culprits, like fruit juice with little value, cinnamon rolls at breakfast, unnecessary desserts like churros, cookies, and frozen yogurt, refined grains like white rice and pasta, Pinkberry lunchtime fundraisers, and the like. And how about those birthday party treats that parents are always sending to school?

Banning nutrient-rich, non-fat, chocolate milk wouldn’t address the overall concern here. In fact, it would create more concern, especially for the lowest income families who may not be able to afford all of the extra food necessary for their kids to get sufficient calcium to replace the plain milk they may not choose at school.

Banning chocolate milk would eliminate a healthy food choice, and put even more kids at risk for calcium and vitamin deficiencies.

Let’s be the community that took the thoughtful approach to this issue, not the one that jumped on a bandwagon driven by ill-informed commandeers.

By the way, on my pediatrician’s recommendation, we are now offering chocolate milk at my house.

Rochelle Fanali is a parent in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District who has served as co-chair of the Campaign to Protect Quality Public School and was a member of the executive board for the Community for Excellent Public Schools.

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