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School Board Rejects Flavored Milk Ban Idea

Parents can notify the school district if they don't want their children to be served flavored milk.

will be on the menu for the 2011-12 school year, but parents who notify the district they do not want their children drinking it can have them put on an "opt-out list." The Board of Education voted 5-2 on Wednesday to reject the proposal from a group of parents for a ban.

The board's decision upheld a recommendation from district staff to continue serving chocolate milk (strawberry milk was discontinued due to low demand), ending a summer-long debate over the future of the flavored dairy beverage in school cafeterias. Board members had been pressed by several district parents—some of whom are health professionals—to follow the lead of other school districts and do away with flavored milk. They said it contributes to childhood obesity and diabetes with empty calories and added sugar. A majority of the board said the benefits of flavored milk outweighed the negatives.

"Flavored milk should be offered to children to enhance milk consumption and the intake of a whole bunch of essential nutrients," said board President José Escarce, who has a medical degree and does research on health issues for the RAND Corp. "I think that every organization that has weighed in on this, every credible organization with a mission to synthesize very complicated research, to turn it into policy recommendations, has weighed in on this issue on the side of flavored milk."

At a July meeting, three board members—Ralph Mechur, Nimish Patel and Oscar de la Torre—spoke in favor of a flavored milk ban and Board Vice President Ben Allen said he was "very interested in a ban." It appeared the flavored milk opponents could get the four votes they needed to get a prohibition approved. But on Wednesday, de la Torre said he had changed his mind.

"I like the idea of parent choice, of giving parents the ability to prohibit access to flavored milk ... but it's very difficult for me to accept that one parent group would make a choice for all other parent groups," de la Torre said. "That goes against our principles in America, where we have the choice of what we put in our bodies." 

However, de la Torre said he would support a plan to phase out flavored milk from the district.

Mechur and Patel, who cast the votes against the resolution, maintained support for a ban. When it became obvious through board member comments that they did not have enough votes to get one passed, they offered to compromise. Rather than having the list that was eventually approved containing the names of students who would not be served chocolate milk, they said parents should be forced to put their children's names on a list if they wanted them served the flavored beverage. Patel said this would lead to more children trying white milk.

"The only way we're going to really educate our kids, we need to force them to get out of their comfort zone," Patel said. "We need them to try the plain white milk."

Jan Maez, the district's chief financial officer, said keeping track of each student who wants to drink flavored milk would place an immense burden on SMMUSD staff. Seventy-six percent of the 440,861 units of milk consumed in SMMUSD schools during 2010-11 were flavored.

The board also OK’d a special educational campaign that would promote white milk. Board members mentioned a similar campaign at the Oxnard Unified School District, which led to an 8 percent increase in student consumption of white milk. Also, the board asked staff to review the nutritional value of the district menu. The results of the review will be reported at the board's Oct. 6 meeting, which will take place at Malibu City Hall.

The flavored milk served in the SMMUSD does not contain fat, but it has two more teaspoons of sugar than white milk. More than 1,000 people signed an e-petition in support of a ban.

"Too much added sugar in the diet is dangerous and can eventually lead to diabetes," the petition states.

Escarce questioned the credibility of people linking flavored milk to childhood health issues, and compared them to people who deny a link between human actions and global warming.

"Some people think that global warming isn't due to man's actions,” he said. "Maybe they're right, but I doubt it."

This article was originally published on Malibu Patch.

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