Schools might want to think twice before banning chocolate and other flavored milk from their cafeterias, according to a new study.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The skinny?

“Students take 10 percent less milk, waste 29 percent more and may even stop eating school meals,” if chocolate milk is not offered as an option, said Andrew Hanks, who conducted the pilot study with colleagues at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

The researchers looked at before and after milk sale data from several elementary schools in Oregon where flavored options, which could include chocolate, strawberry and other flavors that were not plain, white milk, were banned. Oregon isn’t the only state with cities banning such options though. In 2011, Los Angeles Unified School District removed flavored milk from its schools in order to battle youth obesity.

While such bans might reduce calorie and sugar intake, the study said, it might not be a worthy sacrifice in the long run.

Informed of the results of the study, Nicole Zammit, former assistant director of nutrition services at Eugene School District in Oregon, said she wasn’t surprised at the backfire. 

“Given that the role of the federal school meal program is to provide nutritious meals to students who may otherwise have no access to healthy foods, I wouldn’t recommend banning flavored milk unless you have a comprehensive plan in place to compensate for the lost nutrients when kids stop drinking milk altogether,” she said.

The Cornell researchers noted that the decision to ban flavored milks in the Oregon schools studied came from the local parent-teachers association.

The study authors suggest taking other tactics to encourage white milk over chocolate, rather than an outright ban.

“Make white milk appear more convenient and more normal to select,” the study’s co-author Brian Wansink said, suggesting schools put white milk in the front of the cooler or fill at least have of the cooler with white milk options.

Watch Wansink discuss the study’s finding:

The idea that banning flavored milk could result in reduced milk intake overall isn’t entirely novel.

In 2012 after the US Department of Agriculture updated school meal standards, the National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jerry Kozak cited other research that showed milk consumption can drop 35 percent when flavored milk options are removed.

The USDA’s rule allows only fat-free flavored milk in schools participating in certain federal programs, while white milk can be low fat — or 1 percent milk.

Agri-View last year pointed out that sugars in flavored milks had been reduced by about 38 percent since 2006. It also noted that 95 percent of flavored milk in school is still 150 calories or less per serving, which is only about 31 calories more than white milk.

The results of this most recent study regarding the impact of flavored milk bans on school children’s consumption was published in the journal PLOS One.