Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Dominic Cardy, New Brunswick's Minister of Education, Champions School Chocolate Milk Sales In Name of Hunger, Poverty, Food Insecurity, And Fundraising

Before the break, New Brunswick's new Conservative government proudly honoured their promise to restore the elementary school sanctioned sale of chocolate milk.

Never mind that the World Health Organization and Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation have explicitly called for the marked limitation of the free sugars provided to children.

Never mind that the Director General of Health Canada's Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion (the folks in charge of the Food Guide), Dr. Hasan Hutchinson, has been on record since February 2014 that chocolate milk's inclusion in the 2007 (and sadly still current) Food Guide was a mistake - a mistake which almost certainly will be remedied when (if) the Food Guide's revisions are ever published.

Never mind that research on what happens when chocolate milk sales are stopped in schools found that stopping the sale of chocolate milk in 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, 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 the sale of 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 sugar.

No, the New Brunswick Conservatives clearly know better, and in late December, Dominic Cardy, their Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, explained what it was about chocolate milk that made its sale in schools so important - calories. In an interview with the CBC, Cardy explained that selling chocolate milk in schools was important because, "Would you rather have kids have some calories in their stomach or none? You need the calories to start with"

So the sale of chocolate milk in schools is to ensure New Brunswick children consume enough calories? Given New Brunswick's own health council reports the province's rates of childhood obesity are among the highest in the country, I wouldn't have thought that was a problem, and that's putting aside the fact that white milk provides calories too.

And honestly, I wondered if perhaps he was misquoted, or his words were used out of context.

Apparently not. Oh, and also, there's more.

On Twitter, Cardy doubled down on his kids need calories therefore elementary schools need to sell them chocolate milk stance, and then added in that my concerns were due to my privilege and that the sale of chocolate milk was also there to address hunger,

And when RD Karine Comeau quickly pointed out that if food insecure New Brunswick children were the concern, enabling and promoting the excess consumption of sugar in that vulnerable population, a population already at increased risk of chronic disease, probably isn't in their best interest, and instead perhaps an emphasis should be placed on increasing their access to fresh fruits and vegetables, Cardy agreed but stated that the problem with the prior policy was, "yanking milk and juice with no replacement plan"

Yet milk and juice had not been "yanked". You might have noticed that I've bolded the word "sale" throughout this piece - the reasoning is simple - the policy that Cardy and the New Brunswick Conservatives have reversed was the end of school chocolate milk sales. Meaning there was never a ban on chocolate milk (or juice) - they weren't "yanked", they simply weren't sold. Nor were (or are) schools distributing chocolate milk freely to hungry, impoverished children. And when schools weren't selling it, there was nothing stopping a parent from sending their kids with a thermos of chocolate milk (or a juice box) to school, or signing their kids up for the white stuff's sale.

And finally, Cardy calls the concerns of various public health professionals, "self-righteous indignation", and shifts the goalposts a fifth time (from hunger, to poverty, to food insecurity, to yanking) to fundraising. As if there are no other ways to raise funds for schools than by selling sugar.

And perhaps here it's worth repeating, Cardy is New Brunswick's Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. Drink that in for a moment.

(And reporters who will inevitably be covering the new Food Guide's eventual release, if the Guide, as expected, calls for a limitation on sugar-sweetened milk, I'd suggest an interview with Mr. Cardy with a focus on his chocolate milk beliefs and New Brunswick's school food policy might make for a delicious side story)