WASHINGTON — The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) celebrates the decision by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to allow New York City public schools to continue to serve nutritious, low-fat and fat-free flavored milk with school meals. The New York Post reported over the weekend that Mayor Adams is “backing off his proposed ban on chocolate milk” in New York City public school meals. Instead, the mayor’s administration is honoring a longstanding policy in New York City government that allows individual schools to determine the types of milk they will serve with meals as long as the milk options are consistent with standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The mayor is also seeking further input on food and beverage offerings in city schools. USDA school meal standards as well as the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans both support serving low-fat flavored milk in schools.
The mayor’s decision comes after weeks of advocacy by IDFA and other dairy organizations, as well as bipartisan outreach and proposed legislation by members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I am pleased to see Mayor Adams following the lead of parents, physicians, and dietitians, all of whom widely support offering low-fat flavored milk to students in our public schools,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of IDFA. “Studies have shown school meals are the healthiest meals of the day for children thanks, in part, to nutritious milk and dairy options. Offering low-fat flavored milk increases school meal participation, leads to children consuming more nutrients of public health concern, and reduces food waste. Maintaining low-fat flavored milk options in school plays an important role in the diet and nutrition of children because milk contains 13 essential nutrients that children need for growth, development, healthy immune function, and overall wellness. IDFA is grateful to our association members, parents of school-aged children, physicians and dietitians, and members of Congress who spoke up on behalf of what’s best for child nutrition and preserved low-fat flavored milk in New York City public schools.”
In a rare bipartisan letter from Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and other Members of Congress from New York, legislators encouraged Mayor Adams not to eliminate flavored milk from New York City school meals. “As Members representing both rural and urban communities,” the letter reads, “we are committed to supporting the dairy farmers, producers, and agriculture partners across New York, while also ensuring that children in NYC schools have access to critical, life-enhancing nutrients. Unfortunately, for many NYC families, the meals children receive in schools are their only source of many recommended nutrients.” Days later, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced a bill, The Protecting School Milk Choices Act, that would require school systems in the federal lunch program to offer students at least one low-fat flavored milk option at meals. Then, in an important editorial written for the New York Daily News, Keith Ayoob—a pediatric nutritionist, registered dietitian, and clinical practitioner who served as director of the nutrition clinic at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx for more than 30 years—argued that in proposing to ban low-fat flavored milk, Mayor Adams would be undercutting his goals of improving child health and nutrition. “Flavored milk and yogurt are examples of how to properly spend the few added sugar calories allowed in balanced eating styles,” wrote Ayoob. The article goes on to point out that low-fat and fat-free flavored milk offered in schools today has 50% less added sugar and 41 fewer calories than it did a decade ago; a serving of low-fat flavored milk in schools contains fewer than 130 calories.
The bipartisan letter, the legislation, and the Daily News op-ed all referenced a survey done by Morning Consult commissioned by IDFA, which found that 90% of New York City voters with children in public schools and 85% of parents nationally support offering low-fat flavored milk in public school meals. IDFA also launched a direct appeal to Mayor Adams encouraging his administration to preserve low-fat flavored milk.
At present, over two-thirds of milk served in school is of the low-fat, flavored variety, which represents an essential way that kids get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Research finds that children who drink flavored milk consume more nutrients of concern like calcium, vitamin D, and potassium compared to non-flavored milk drinkers. Studies have shown that reducing or eliminating the availability of flavored milk in schools has led to overall decreased milk consumption and increased food waste. The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans found that children of all ages are not meeting the recommended intake of dairy foods and thereby underconsuming a variety of nutrients during childhood and adolescence, including potassium, calcium, and vitamin D.
In March, USDA released a transitional final rule maintaining low-fat, flavored milk and other needed flexibilities in USDA child nutrition program meal requirements through the 2023-2024 school year. USDA is now reviewing comments in preparation for releasing updated child nutrition program standards for the 2024 school year and beyond. IDFA will continue to remain engaged with USDA, Congress, state and city governments, and other stakeholders on child nutrition discussions and policies.
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The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industry, which supports more than 3.3 million jobs that generate $41.6 billion in direct wages and $753 billion in overall economic impact. IDFA’s diverse membership ranges from multinational organizations to single-plant companies, from dairy companies and cooperatives to food retailers and suppliers, all on the cutting edge of innovation and sustainable business practices. Together, they represent 90 percent of the milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and cultured products, and dairy ingredients produced and marketed in the United States and sold throughout the world. Delicious, safe and nutritious, dairy foods offer unparalleled health and consumer benefits to people of all ages.