The milk industry has done a great job of marketing its product. You can’t get away from celebrities with white moustaches, cartoon cows, or hip hop singing farmers (who can forget the line: “You got the big bad Bessie with the M. I. L. K”). And it’s been incredibly effective at convincing parents (erroneously, says the head of the nutrition department at Harvard’s School of Public Health) that children are suffering a “calcium crisis.”
A few years ago, chocolate milk even got an “image makeover” when nutritionists lobbied to have flavoured milk removed from school cafeterias. Today, some 70% of all milk served in the U.S. is flavoured, and 7% of total milk sales are to schools, according to an article last summer in The New York Times.
Expect the knives (straws?) to come out because—spurred, perhaps, by the latest USDA dietary guidelines—the debate about flavoured milk is heating up once again. The milk industry says chocolate milk is a great vehicle for kids to get calcium and other nutrients. Its detractors see these sugary drinks as merely a marketing response to the popularity of soda, and contributing in no small way to the obesity crisis.
Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Better D.C. School Food that he thinks serving sugary flavoured milk at schools is a “recipe for a health disaster.”
And a new report from the Institute of Medicine in the U.S., writes blogger/activist Ed Bruske “found claims that Americans are deficient in calcium and vitamin D to be greatly exaggerated,” posing what he calls “a serious challenge to a dairy industry campaign to sell chocolate milk to the nation’s schoolchildren.”
The milk industry takes its reputation very seriously. I’m sure we’ll all be watching closely to see how it responds.