Flavored milk processors are coming around on proposed added-sugars limit in US schools

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Strawberry- and chocolate-flavored milks are significant sources of added sugars for US school children. Image: Getty/busracavus
Strawberry- and chocolate-flavored milks are significant sources of added sugars for US school children. Image: Getty/busracavus

Related tags flavored milk Dairy Milk school meals Nutrition Usda Obesity

A new initiative led by the IDFA suggests that leading milk processors including Danone North America and Dairy Farmers of America are prepared to adhere to a lower added-sugars limit for flavored milk in order to continue to offer their products in US schools.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) is leading a voluntary effort to reduce added sugars in school milk by the 2025-2026 school year.

According to the Healthy School Milk Commitment, which is supported by 37 school milk processors representing more than 90% of the school milk volume in the US, added sugars in flavored milk will be limited to up to 10g per 8fl.oz serving. Danone North America, Dairy Farmers of America, Borden, Wawa Dairy and Prairie Farms are some of the processors who have signed up to the voluntary commitment.

Flavored milk is a leading source of added sugars in lunch and breakfast programs, according to the USDA. During lunch, school children typically consume around half of their daily allowance for added sugars through flavored milk.

In a bid to improve school nutrition standards and make meal patterns consistent with the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA proposed to either:

  • limit the provision of flavored milk to higher grades and offer elementary and middle school kids fat-free or low-fat unflavored milk,
  • or continue to provide flavored milk to all but limit the amount of added sugars in the dairy beverage.

In the latter option, the proposed limit is 10g of added sugars per 8fl.oz of milk for products served at breakfast and lunch; and 15g per 12.fl.oz for products sold outside the meal for middle- and high-school children.

The proposals, which are open for public comment, have so far attracted more than 61,000 responses​. The consultation is open until May 10, 2023.

US schools are currently required to offer fat-free and/or low-fat unflavored milk at breakfast and lunch, though there could be a fat-free and/or low-fat flavored milk beverages on offer.

What the IDFA initiative means for school milk processors?

IDFA’s voluntary initiative is a strong signal that the vast majority of milk processors are prepared to adhere to the USDA-proposed 10g limit for flavored milk in order to retain the product category in US schools in the future.

IDFA has previously argued that removing flavored milk from school menus altogether would reduce milk consumption and prevent children from getting critical nutrients. The body has maintained this argument here too, stating that its voluntary initiative would help  ‘deliver milk’s 13 essential nutrients to America’s students while reducing calories and added sugars in flavored milk’.

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., IDFA president and CEO, commented: “The Healthy School Milk Commitment goes above and beyond federal nutrition guidelines, ensuring that all children in grades K-12 continue to have access to the milk they enjoy with fewer calories and less added sugar.

“School meals are incredibly important to the health and welfare of our children, and milk is a central building block in school nutrition programs.

"Milk is the leading source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium for American children ages two to 18, and that is why milk processors continue to step up by providing wholesome, healthy, and nutritious white milk and flavored milk options with 13 essential nutrients that students will consume.”

Parents also want flavored milks to remain available, according to IDFA, which conducted a survey​ among 513 parents with children in public schools during March. The results showed that 86% of those polled agreed that low or no-fat flavored milk should remain an option, rising to 90% after IDFA communicated the benefits of milk in school meals to the survey participants.

IDFA says the 10g-ceiling would ensure that even the youngest school-aged children would be able to receive milk as part of their lunch and breakfast. 10g is also a lot less than historical averages, the body said:

“The Commitment level of 10 grams of added sugar is about 7 grams less than the average level of added sugar in flavored school milk in the 2006/07 school year. The level of added sugar in school chocolate milk has decreased by 50% over the past 15 years. The average added sugar content decreased from 16.7 grams in school year 2006-07 to 8.2 grams in school year 2021/22.”

High sugar levels still found in flavored school milk - study

But some milk processors would need to adjust their products more drastically than others. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which analyzed the nutritional content of milks served in US schools, found that seven flavored milk products contained more than 100% of the DGA-aligned added sugar allowance, while 13 others contributed 80% or more. For higher grades, six products contained 80% or more of the DGA-aligned allowance.

Source: Added Sugars in School Meals and the Diets of School-Age Children
Mary Kay Fox, et al
Published: 30 January 2021
DOI: 10.3390/nu13020471

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