WASHINGTON Good news for milk-pushing moms this September: kid-favorite flavored milks will have less calories and sugar, according to the Milk Processor Education Program.
MilkPEP - which runs the National Milk Mustache "got milk?" Campaign - said on Monday that flavored milk cartons will contain fewer than 150 calories and 22 grams of total sugar on average this school year.
Milk provides calcium, vitamin D and potassium that is critical for children's development but in short supply in kids' diets, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Milk is the number one food source in America for these essential nutrients, according to MilkPEP's.
Cartons of flavored milk will carry just 31 more calories than white milk as the result of a five-year process of industry reformulations aiming to "provide nutritious new products with the same great taste kids love," said MilkPEP.
The healthy trend among milk processors will reduce added sugar in fat-free and low-fat chocolate milk by 38 percent.
"There are a lot of kids that don't want to drink plain white milk; they really love drinking flavored milk and that's very important for the essential nutrients in milk," said MilkPEP CEO Vivien Godfrey. "It's a happy balance between some added sugars but making sure that the kids actually drink the milk as opposed to taking the white milk on the lunch line and not in fact drinking it."
But flavored milk has been the subject of some debate in the national conversation over child nutrition.
Nearly one in three kids in the country is obese or overweight. On the USDA Healthy Eating Index, children's diets today score 55.9 out of 100.
Some school districts have removed flavored milk as part of efforts to reduce consumption of unhealthy drinks such as sugary soda. Such drinks are responsible for nearly half of sugar in kids' daily diet, and flavored milk represents only 3 percent, according to Godfrey.
But research has shown that when flavored milk is taken away, many students will not drink milk at all. A MilkPEP study of 58 elementary and secondary schools found that an average of 35 percent less milk gets consumed when students do not have the colored milk option.
The School Nutrition Association released their "State of School Nutrition 2011," Thursday, which found that 98 percent of all school districts nationwide offer fat-free, skim or 1% milk options and 95.4 percent offer flavored milk.
"Changes are huge because milk is so important and we sell probably 70 percent of our milk to students," said SNA President Elect Sandra Ford. "To take away that chocolate milk to those students would be devastating to a children's calcium intake, so we like that producers have responded by reducing the sugar themselves."
MilkPEP is one of 18 agricultural "check off" programs, said Godfrey, meaning that all U.S. milk processors, excluding companies too small to qualify, are Congressionally mandated to pay into a marketing pool for the industry run by MilkPEP.