On July 19, the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), filed a petition (pdf) asking the USDA to remove milk as a required food from the national school lunch program. The PCRM petition argues that milk should not be included as part of a healthy school lunch for the following reasons:
- There’s limited proof that milk improves bone health or reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
- Dairy foods may create other health risks.
- Milk does not prevent bone fractures and injury in children and adults.
- Cows milk is the number one source of saturated fat in children’s diets.
- One in eight Americans is lactose intolerant.
- More than 1 million U.S. children struggle with milk allergies.
Furthermore, PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., points out that, “Focusing on milk as the single most important source of calcium in children’s diets distracts schools and parents from foods that can actually build bones, like beans and leafy greens.”
According to PCRM, the federal government spends more money on dairy than any other food item in the school lunch program. They also argue that the amount of calcium your body ultimately absorbs is based on various factors, such as genes, vitamin D intake, exercise and more, so maybe the real focus should be on an overall healthy lifestyle, not just making sure kids get that daily container of milk. PCRM points out that there are other ways for kids to get their daily calcium, such as from foods like beans, tofu, broccoli, kale, collard greens, cereals and other calcium-fortified beverages, including orange juice and soy milk.
That said, this issue is already creating some massive debates. First of, the national school lunch program isn’t exactly known for stellar quality. It’s taken literally 15 years for healthy school lunch changes to occur, and it’s super unlikely that we’ll see USDA sanctioned lunches packed full of tofu and kale anytime soon. On top of this, TIME Magazine talked with a dietician, along with other doctors who note that kids seem to “really like milk“ and it may be irresponsible to remove milk from lunches considering it packs in plenty of other nutrients beyond calcium, such as vitamin A, protein, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12 and phosphorus. Getting back to the other side, schools don’t serve organic milk and while conventional milk may have nutrients, it’s also packed with hormones, chemicals and antibiotics, all major problems. On top of icky additives in milk, kids in this country are insanely overweight, and fatty dairy products may have something to do with it.
Still, it’s hard to blame dairy products alone for the 17% childhood obesity rate, especially when so many kids are indulging in poor food choices, huge portions and barely exercising. It’s in poor taste to blame milk alone for overweight kids when there are actually many factors at play. What do you think? Should plain old milk be removed from school lunches? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Lead image by Ale_Paiva via sxc.