by Marion Nestle
Nov 10 2009

Raise your hand for chocolate milk?

Thanks to Marlene Schwartz of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale for alerting me to this Associated Press report about the new dairy industry campaign to rescue chocolate milk from the food police.  This, you will not be surprised to hear, is the latest activity funded by the milk checkoff program, a USDA-administered program that requires certain commodity producers to contribute funds to a kitty to be used for generic marketing.  One such program is MilkPep, the incredibly well funded marketing group that together with the Dairy Council invented the “Got Milk” mustache campaign.

MilkPep is now the proud defender of chocolate milk against efforts to get it out of schools.  Why would anyone be so mean as to want to do that?  Maybe because chocolate milk has more sugar and calories than plain milk?  No matter.  MilkPet is stepping up to the plate.  Its $500,000 to $1,000,000 “raise your hand for chocolate milk” campaign takes on those pesky nutrition advocates who think that kids ought to be eating something other than sweets in schools.

The rationale for the campaign?  If you get rid of chocolate milk, kids won’t drink milk.  You will deprive kids of the nutrients in milk and contribute to the “milk deficit.”   After all, this rationale goes, chocolate milk is better than soda (Oops.  Didn’t we just hear something like this relative to the Smart Choices fiasco?).

OK.  Let’s look at what this is really about:

  • Schools represent sales of 460 million gallons of milk – more than 7% of total milk sales
  • More than half (54%) of flavored milk is sold in schools
  • Chocolate milk is a key growth area for milk processors

MilkPep has produced a slide show to help companies take action (I apologize for not linking to it but I have not yet succeeded in uploading a large file, despite many attempts).  The slides advise allies to go on a “chocolate milk offensive”:

  • Do public relations
  • Get bloggers on board
  • Engage moms through social media
  • Take advantage of SuperBowl ads – the campaign intends to fund one
  • Reach out to media

Doesn’t this sound like something ripe for satire?  Colbert!  We need you!

Additions:  Do not miss the YouTube version.  And here’s theofficial MilkPep press release.  Note the testimonials to the benefits of chocolate milk.  It’s a health food!

  • Dr. Saul

    What would the food police (or is it nazis) have our children to drink with their meals? From what I understand, juice and sodas are bad because of the high sugar content, milk is bad because it’s animal-derived, tap water is bad because municipal water sources are often contaminated by pharmaceutical runoff, and bottled water is bad because of the ridiculously high amount of energy required to produce the packaging, transport the bottles, and recycle the bottles. So what does that leave us? I’d move to have our children drink a low percentage beer as my ancestors did hundreds of years ago, but wait that’s already illegal in our society. So, I’m sincerely curious what the food police think?

    What is causing our children to become obese? A quick survey of the literature quickly reveals that no one has a clue. Lots of interesting hypotheses, but nothing that stands up consistently across studies. Too many of the studies are conducted in a haphazard fashion, misinterpreted, or poorly designed from the start. First I was told it was the high fats, then I was told it’s the high carbohydrates, and now I’m being told its processed sugars or byproducts derived from food processing itself? If nutritionists cannot even decide and agree upon what is healthy eating, why are they so eager to use the law to dictate what we should and shouldn’t eat?

    When the food police act in a misguided fashion, why should we be surprised when the food industry acts to protects its interests or correct misinformation or clear propaganda from activist groups (e.g. things similar to what Ragamuffin wrote above)? Why should we chastise them for it?

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  • Former schoolkid

    I remember chocolate milk wasn’t offered very often in school, so it was considered a treat. I like chocolate milk once in a while, and I wouldn’t want to get rid of it entirely. A better idea would be to limit the amount of sugars/calories that can be added, or the number of times it’s served.

  • Tippi Denenberg

    Yes, a spoof is a must. Something like a “Heil…” ‘raised’ hand for chocolate milk. Too much? :) Probably! But the video is over the top goofy. Me thinks the milk industry doth protest too much about chocolate milk.

  • Maria

    What´s making kids obese is no mistery, and all nutritionists agree: too many calories in their diet. Period. Sodas, fried foods, pizzas and yes, chocolate milk, have too many calories and very little nutritional value. No conspiracy theories needed here.

  • Ryan

    Love this blog. Great points.

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  • Laurie B

    I think what we’re teaching our children is “just a spoon full of sugar helps” anything to go down. We are processing our foods so thoroughly that we don’t even know what to eat anymore. A McNugget? A double-down? A grand slam? Whatever happened to simple stuff like green beans, broccoli, potatoes, kale? Processing, preserving, taste enhancers, tons of salt, lots of oils and frying. This is not a natural way to eat our foods.
    Chocolate milk isn’t bad in and of itself. But put it together with other items on the dollar menu and you haven’t got a whole lot of nutritional heft. That’s the issue. If you eat crap all the time, your body is still going to require nutrients, so you eat more and more and more. You’re going to get bigger as you support more and more of the processed food industry.
    Just look at what Dominoes is doing for us. 40% more cheese is being added to their already cheesy pizzas. The USDA-backed group called Dairy Management has a $12 million dollar campaign going. Thank you USDA for increasing the amount of saturated fats and salt to a nation of people that are facing horrible health issues relating to obesity.
    We can demonize chocolate milk if that makes everyone feel better, but it’s a lot of different things causing problems that are showing up as disease and obesity: pollutants, additives to our food, GMOs, artificial preservatives and colors with known hazardous side effects that we put in our body, contaminants from pharmaceuticals in our food, water. Wow. What are we doing.

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