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NYC Council Committee Reviews Decision to Reduce Milk Choices in Schools

Dec 18, 2006

NYC Council Committee Reviews Decision to Reduce Milk Choices in Schools

Milk consumption in New York City public schools has dropped 10% in the past year, according to David Berkowitz, the city's school food director, on the heels of the city's decision in late 2005 to drastically limit milk choices in public schools. Berkowitz made the announcement last week at a special city council hearing called to assess the impact of the city's decision to limit milk choices and to consider a resolution requiring an extensive evaluation of the decision's effect on child nutrition.

"The hearing clearly demonstrated the harm done by this ill-advised decision. The department of education should heed the advice of experts and parents, and reinstate more milk choices," said Chip Kunde, IDFA senior vice president.

This hearing marked the culmination of many months of coordinated effort led by IDFA and the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC).

At the hearing, the New York City Council Committee on Education reviewed the department of education's mandate directing all city schools to serve only lowfat and fat-free white milk, and allowing only some schools to offer fat-free chocolate milk on special occasions. Previously, a wide variety of milk was available, including lowfat chocolate and strawberry. The mandate was issued November 2005 as part of the city's effort to fight childhood obesity and diabetes.

Advocates for School Milk Choices, a coalition of nutritionists, physicians, researchers and parents who attended the hearing, called the decline in milk consumption unacceptable. Several coalition members testified, expressing their concern that the majority of school-age children do not receive enough calcium in their diets.

"There is no evidence that the consumption of flavored fat-free and 1% milk, even daily, affects weight negatively," said Keith Ayoob, a pediatric nutritionist and associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who chairs the coalition. "There is good evidence that flavored milk can help kids get enough calcium when they wouldn't normally."

Citing research showing milk to be the number one source of essential vitamins and nutrients in kids' diets, health and nutrition experts testified that milk, both plain and flavored, plays an important role in the healthy diets of children. They noted that the coalition's push to allow lowfat chocolate milk in schools is in step with federal nutrition guidelines, which suggest offering nutrient-dense foods, such as flavored lowfat milk, as a way to add key vitamins and nutrients to children's diets.

The coalition members said children will opt for less healthy alternatives, such as soft drinks, unless more palatable healthy options, like flavored milk, are made available. Soft drinks contain "more sugar in one bottle than the children would receive from a week's worth of flavored milk in school," Ayoob told council members.

New York City parents seem to agree. During the hearing, the committee received a petition signed by over 250 parents asking for 1% flavored milk to be added back as an option in school lunch menus.

The hearing also considered a resolution introduced last April by Councilman Bill de Blasio that calls for a deeper study of the decision and its effect on school milk consumption and child nutrition. The council is expected to vote on the resolution in January.

Despite the testimonials offered at the hearing, Berkowitz refused to say school officials would change their decision. IDFA will continue to work with ADADC in New York and several industry members to raise awareness of the decision and to find ways to build support for reinstating more milk choices in New York City schools.

For more information on the hearing, click here.

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Posted December 18, 2006

Dairy Delivers