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!

  • Anthro

    Where does the greed of these groups end? How can they sleep at night? Do they feed their own children all these supposed “nutritious” foods? When I went to school, we didn’t have chocolate milk (or soda!) and guess what? We drank the regular milk.

  • Erik Arnesen

    Do you think chocolate milk is bad “per se”, or is it because of the extra calories/sugar it provides?

    Here in Norway, pupils can choose chocolate milk, too. This actually has a few calories less than plain, light milk (1.5 % fat), less than 1 % added sugars, it’s lactose reduced and enriched with vitamin D. BTW, this milk is not “promoted” in the media or at schools.
    Do you still consider this a “bad” choice, too, just because it isn’t plain milk?

  • Subvert

    “Hispanic Overlay” – great! Let’s pick a group that is already at high risk for T2 diabetes, and bombard them with marketing on how to “refuel with chocolate milk”! Nice. How about add in a soda and some ‘locally grown’ potato chips…

    I’m sure we can count on good ol’ pal Vilsack to give this one the thumbs up.

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  • Tyler Larson

    I am what you would call a choc milk enthusiast, it’s my fav drink/food ever (seriously). Guarantee I’ve consumed more chocolate milk than 99.99% of the population in the last 12 years. From age 14-18 I went through about a gallon a day (seriously had a fridge in our home just for milk); I did this because I wanted to be tall. Now I only drink about a gallon every 2-3 days because I’m not growing taller anymore, but it is an effective recovery beverage after exercise – as good as, if not better than Gatorade.

    I am now at least 3 inches taller than anyone on either side of my family (I always credit the milk), and I am def not obese due to my over-indulgence of the beverage. I am an ‘athletic’ person, I played sports throughout high school, ran 3 marathons in college (including Boston) and I’ve ran a half Iron Man within the last 2 months. In between all of that I just make sure I get 30 minutes of exercise 6 days a week. Lack of activity/exercise and over-consumption and exercise is the bigger issue in my opinion. I work 40+ hours a week and I easily find the time.

  • Tyler Larson

    Ha, yea I messed up the last 2 sentences but you know what I was getting at.

  • Where’s the Chickpea lobby when you need it?
    Chickpeas are a great calcium source, let’s get hummus in the schools instead of chocolate milk!

  • I can’t help but wonder where kids are going to learn about nutrition, if even the schools turn their backs to science and offer things like chocolate milk, soda vending machines, etc.

    There’s hope in awareness and education, so thanks for passing along this information.

  • Marion — Incidentally, what are your thoughts on the myth that chocolate milk is produced from the “bad” milk that contains discoloring quantities of pus and blood after pasteurization? Or, for that matter, the claims that dairy companies use white dyes in their regular milk production to hide those reminants? FDA stipulations assert, of course, that these myths are impossible, and yet they promulgate themselves…

  • Brandon

    Actually I’m of the belief that hating on chocolate milk is too food police-ish. What’s next? I can’t add cheese to my broccoli? No oil for my stir fry? There’s a line. I think this crosses it.

  • I think people are getting too up in arms over this. I distinctly remember missing many a recess back in my school days because I refused to drink the white milk. So, instead of receiving the extra calories and nutrition provided by chocolate milk (even if it’s not as great as regular milk) I received nothing and was punished in the process.

  • Ally

    Indeed… I loved Colbert’s ‘Sugar Shortage’ episode!

  • my Health Bank is thanking me every time I say “no” to dairy and run a “milk deficit”

    Weened Yet?
    There is a great documentary on Milk:

  • Brandon—

    We have an EPIDEMIC of obesity in this country. Children are also developing Diabetes and showing signs of heart disease at a much earlier rate. We don’t need to pump them full of commodity sugary drinks supported by tax dollars.

    If we are going to change things, we need to actually change things. The “food police” maneuver is a roadblock to children’s health. Are we pro Children’s health or against it?
    If the parent really wants the child to be hopped up on sugar, they could send some in the lunch, along side the pudding granola bar and the sugar-by-the-foot. I see these expensive treats in lunches on the daily! Let’s limit the sugar offered by the school.

  • Cindy

    Even as an infant, I loathed milk; the only way I would drink it was with Quick. My parents insisted that I drink 8 ounces of this stuff, three times a day. It was chocolate milk in the little carton at school. I would’ve been happier with a glass of cool water.

  • Mason

    And I’m sure BigMilk will use this as “proof”:

    Even the NYT spins it as a new superfood:

    I’m sure your local Fox affliate will spin it as:
    “A new study in Europe says that chocolate milk is acutally better for your heart than water! Next we’ll talk to one local woman lost 50 pounds eating nothing but pork rinds and Mike & Ikes.”

    I’m endlessly saddened by mass media’s misinterpretation of good science as magic and esoteric witchcraft. It only serves to strengthen the layman’s anti-science view of “Those eggheads and bigbrains can say whatever they want. They just make stuff up. All that science is just a big Uncle Sam conspiracy.”

  • Given the chance, my kids would drink two chocolate milks a day at school — that is a lot of chocolate milk (and sugar) in a week. Take it out of school or make it available on Fridays as a treat and that would be great. I’ll admit that chocolate milk is delicious, but come on people — pumping this much sugar into your kids on a daily basis is insane. I can only hope our children’s generation isn’t know for an epidemic of obesity like the current one is. Just because our parents raised us on a specific diet of sugar and fat doesn’t mean that we have to do the same. Healthy choices make for a healthy life.

  • sid

    Despite the loud voices insisting it is, sugar is not actually a type of amphetamine.

    I love a chocolate milk (and a three-pack reeses cups too) in the middle of a bike ride, it gives me the energy to enjoy my fit, active lifestyle.

  • JC

    The best argument they seem to have against you is the opposing “health” argument that taking away chocolate milk will diminish milk consumption generally. If I were a legislator hearing from both sides, this is the industry argument that would resonate most with me.

    Is is true? Do they have any data to back up their argument? Better yet, do you have any research to refute it?

  • Maria

    A fascinating article from today’s New York Times, a “scientific” study (I wonder who paid for it) shows that chocolate milk can reduce the risk of heart disease in only 4 weeks!! Man, this is marketing at its best:

  • Kristi

    Is this the reason for NY Time’s recent article “Nutrition: Chocolate Milk May Reduce Inflammation?”

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  • Subvert

    Re: Midweek Insomnia-….

    Love the glam photo flashes in all the nutrition expert spots on the Chocolate milk video! Super Cool!

    When they’re done shooting their spots for Wal-Mart, maybe they can come help out this cause. Its way more simple than the acting and claiming to know what is going on in the bigger scheme of mass-marketing and corporate consumer education, compared to the dirty deeds they are currently doing. But hey, they’re getting paid, and in today’s game of gambling our future that’s all that matters, right?!

    I do have to give it to you for the glam-flash snaps video though! Nice 🙂

  • Mason

    Sid- The “I live healthy and I eat sugar, ergo sugar is not unhealthy.” argument is patently false. Many people are fully functioning alcoholics, but that doesn’t make whiskey part of a balanced breakfast.

  • Harrison Moss

    Dr. Nestle,

    I thought you might find this recent NY times article relevant:

    It highlights research suggesting that chocolate milk may act as an anti-inflammatory.



  • lizzie

    It’s not about chocolate milk. It’s about MILK. Even 1% milk has more calories than soda. Yes, milk has some nutrients, just like Coke Plus, but so does any natural food.

    Milk also got a specific exemption from many cities’ and counties’ trans fat bans (including New York, Seattle, etc). Without this exemption, milk would be banned for health reasons along with hydrogenated french fries. One cup of 2% milk has 3 grams of saturated fat and 0.2 grams of trans fat.

  • I read once that chocolate milk is an ideal drink to have right after the gym (weight training), combining the right amount of carbs, fat and vitamins.

    My problem, I always put way too much syrup in my drink. Remember Step by Step with the character who poured the syrup right into his mouth? That’s me.

  • Mandy

    This is why chocolate milk is not healthy. If made with Hershey’s syrup (or something similar, which it probably is), it contains these ingredients:

    HERSHEY’S Chocolate Syrup – High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, sugar, cocoa, contains 2% or less of: potassium sorbate (preservative), salt, mono & digycerides, polysorbate 60 (emulsifier), xanthan gum & vanilla (artificial flavor).

    I definitely wouldn’t want my children drinking this stuff every day. Homemade chocolate milk from organic, non-homogenized milk from grassfed cows, organic cocoa powder, and some rhapadura? Fine!

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  • Sarah

    This campaign is blatant marketing, but people shouldn’t be so ocd about a little chocolate! My son’s only 3, but if I find them pushing it in school later on, I’ll just pack him some like I make for him as a treat now: 2% with a little agave, madagascar vanilla and valrhona french cocoa powder. It’s not too sweet, full of antioxidants and we both like it. The commercial stuff is gross, though.