Monday, January 19, 2015

What I Learned By Actually Reading that New School Chocolate Milk Study

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I was amazed by the uproar the publication of a Dairy Farmers of Canada funded chocolate milk study inspired last week. The study, "Impact of the removal of chocolate milk from school milk programs for children in Saskatoon, Canada", at least according to the breathless press release and the resulting press coverage apparently concluded, "it's chocolate milk, or no milk at all for many children", and while it's no surprise given the funding that the spin was chocolate milk positive (including the study's mind-numbing use of the word, "enhanced" to describe sugar-sweetened milk), after reading the actual study, I'm beyond gobsmacked.

The study methodology was pretty straight forward. For 4 weeks they offered elementary school children both chocolate milk and white milk and measured how much of each they drank and how much went to waste. Next, they stopped providing the chocolate milk for 4 more weeks and kept measuring. Lastly, they brought back the chocolate milk option for a final 4 weeks of measurements.

Now hold onto your hats. As readers of the press are likely to already know the study found,
"the children waste more milk when it’s plain."
How much more waste you ask? Just 4/5ths of a tablespoon more a day. Yup, if you actually read the study you find out that when chocolate milk disappeared the kids drank a scant 12mL less per day than they did when chocolate milk was available. If these numbers continued, kids who drank milk would drink about a cup less milk a month for a grand total of just 9.6 fewer cups over the course of their entire chocolate milk free 200 day school year.

Or would they? What about the kids who stopped drinking milk altogether because they could no longer get chocolate? Well when the researchers tried to quantify total daily consumption of milk for all students they found,
"that students’ total milk intake at home, or milk consumption at school, did not change across the study phases."
The researchers also found,
"that on average students were meeting the 3–4 servings per day recommended by Canada’s Food Guide for 9- to 13-year-olds"
and that school milk only accounted for 13%–15% of total dairy consumed.

What else did the researchers find? Well if you want a non-Dairy Farmers of Canada "enhanced" spin on things, the researchers also found that in just the first month following the removal of school chocolate milk the number of students drinking white milk increased by 466%! A number which might well have increased further over time as palates and norms in the schools changed. And what happens to former chocolate milk drinkers when they swap Beatrice 1% chocolate milk for Beatrice 2% white? Well over the course of each week they'll drink 22 fewer teaspoons of added sugar and over the course of a 200 day school year, 14,000 fewer calories and 19 fewer cups of added sugar.

So to sum up. The study found that taking chocolate milk out of schools did not affect the students' total daily milk or dairy consumption, that on average all students were meeting their daily recommended amounts of dairy (recommendations which by the way are almost certainly higher than the evidence would suggest they need be), that kids who swapped from chocolate milk to white milk drank pretty much the same amount of white as they did chocolate (unless you think 4/5ths of a tablespoon of milk is a lot), and that by removing chocolate milk from the school, in the first month alone nearly half of the initial chocolate milk drinkers switched to white and in so doing, saved themselves piles of calories and the nearly 2 full cups of monthly added chocolate milk sugar.

If anything this study lends very strong support for those thinking schools shouldn't be offering sugar sweetened milk to students.

Clearly the reporters didn't bother to actually read the study. Shouldn't they have?

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