As has been my tradition, in December I repost old favourites from years gone by. This year am looking back to 2015.
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?
(A variation of this post was first published October 24th, 2013)
And I’m not really all that worried. At least not about Halloween night.
The fact is food’s not simply fuel, and like it or not, Halloween and candy are part of the very fabric of North American culture, and so to suggest that kids shouldn’t enjoy candy on Halloween isn’t an approach I would support.
That said, Halloween sure isn’t pretty. On average every Halloween sized candy contains in the order of 2 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of 2 Oreo cookies and I’d bet most Halloween eves there are more kids consuming 10 or more Halloween treats than less – 20 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of more than half an entire package of Oreos (there are 36 cookies in a package of Oreos).
So what’s a health conscious parent to do?
Use Halloween as a teachable moment. After all, it’s not Halloween day that’s the real problem, the real problem are the other 364 days of Halloween where we as a society have very unwisely decided to reward, pacify and entertain kids with junk food or candy (see my piece on the 365 days of Halloween here). So what can be taught on Halloween?
Well firstly I think you can chat some about added sugar (and/or calories), and those rule of thumb figures up above provide easily visualized metrics for kids and parents alike.
Secondly it allows for a discussion around “thoughtful reduction“. Ask them how many candies they think they’ll need to enjoy Halloween? Remember, the goal is the healthiest life that can be enjoyed, and that goes for kids too, and consequently the smallest amount of candy that a kid is going to need to enjoy Halloween is likely a larger amount than a plain old boring Thursday. In my house our kids have determined 3 candies are required (and I’m guessing likely a few more on the road) – so our kids come home, they dump their sacks, and rather than just eat randomly from a massive pile they hunt out the 3 treats they think would be the most awesome and then silently learn a bit about mindful eating by taking their time to truly enjoy them.
Well it goes into the cupboard and gets metered out at a rate of around a candy a day….but strangely….and I’m not entirely sure how this happens, maybe it’s cupboard goblins, but after the kids go to sleep the piles seem to shrink more quickly than math would predict (though last year my oldest told me she believed it was her parents eating them and that she was going to count her candies each night). I’ve also heard of some families who grab glue guns and make a Halloween candy collage, and dentist offices who do Halloween candy buy-backs.
Lastly, a few years ago we discovered that the Switch Witch’ territory had expanded to include Ottawa. Like her sister the Tooth Fairy, the Switch Witch, on Halloween, flies around looking for piles of candy to “switch” for toys in an attempt to keep kids’ teeth free from cavities for her sister. The joy and excitement on my kids’ faces when they came downstairs on November 1st that first Switch Witch year was something to behold, and is already a discussion between them this year.
And if you do happen upon our home, we haven’t given out candy since 2006 and we haven’t been egged either. You can buy Halloween coloured play-doh packs at Costco, Halloween glow sticks, stickers or temporary tattoos at the dollar store (glow sticks seem to be the biggest hit in our neighbourhood), or if your community is enlightened, you might even be able to pick up free swim or skate passes for your local arena or YMCA.