Got Chocolate Milk? Health Benefits Debated

Chocolate milk has been a staple in school cafeterias for decades. But as schools nationwide look to make their menus healthier, a debate has emerged over whether the sweet drink should still be served in the cafeteria.

Today the dairy industry is launching an ad campaign to make its case for chocolate milk, arguing that the nutrients children get from it outweigh any additional sugar they consume when drinking it.

VIDEO: Chocolate milk contains high sugar content.
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Regular low fat milk has 12 grams of sugar per half pint compared to 24 or 30 grams of sugar in chocolate milk.

"I like chocolate milk and I know my girls will too because it's a great way for them to get all the nutrients that go with it," actress Rebecca Romijn says in one commercial.

The campaign, called "Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk," is costing the dairy industry nearly a million dollars, according to Vivien Godfrey, CEO of industry marketing group the Milk Processor Education Program.

Although that may sound like a steep price tag, there is a lot of money at stake for the dairy industry. Schools account for 54 percent of all flavored milk sold, according to the National Dairy Council.

Sugar vs. Nutrients in Chocolate Milk

Defenders of chocolate milk argue that the extra sugar is worth it because the milk gives children calcium and vitamin D.

"When chocolate milk is made available, kids will pick it. They will choose it. And the benefit is that they will get nine essential nutrients they need," Felicia Stoler, a dietician and spokesperson for the dairy industry, said in one of the commercials.

Removing Sugar from School Menus

But some nutritionists say that dropping chocolate milk from school menus is necessary to help reduce children's sugar intake.

"When children have chocolate milk on a daily basis at school, it's really going to be hard for them to go back home [and] just be drinking plain milk," Mary Story, a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota, said.

A study released last month by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that when chocolate milk was taken off menus in a Connecticut school district, total milk consumption dropped 67 percent in grades 3 through 8.

"If you take chocolate milk off the menu in school cafeterias, then what kids are left with are other sugary beverages that have no other nutritional value other than calories," Stoler said.

Defenders of chocolate milk point to the nutrition children could lose by not drinking it. But critics say the dairy industry is only paying attention to money it could lose if school cafeterias decide to drop chocolate milk from the menu.

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