Fresno

Parents ask school district to outlaw chocolate milk

FRESNO -- Sarah Alvaregna, 6, would be happy to see chocolate milk eliminated from Fresno Unified School District cafeterias.

"I don't like chocolate milk," said Sarah, who will soon enter second grade at Burroughs Elementary School.

Sarah and her mother Julia Alvaregna were among dozens of parents and children who attended the school district board meeting last Wednesday night to show their support for eliminating flavored milk from school cafeterias, and instead serving unflavored, fat-free or 1 percent milk. They grasped signs that read in Spanish, "parents and children of FUSD for good health."

Recently, school districts -- including the Los Ángeles Unified School District and the tiny Earlimart School District in Tulare County -- have responded to the nation's raging childhood obesity epidemic by removing flavored milk from school cafeterias.

Chocolate milk contains almost as much sugar as soda, leading to 75 extra calories per serving, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research has linked obesity to the consumption of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Now, local families are advocating for this change in Fresno Unified cafeterias, and district officials are considering parents' concerns.

During the public testimony section of the school board meeting, five speakers -- including concerned parents, two doctors, and a former educator -- called on the school board to remove flavored milk from school district menus before the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

At least 1,000 city residents also signed a petition in support of eliminating flavored milk from school menus, a speaker said.

Dr. Tienchin Ho, a mother and weight loss surgeon, said sugar-sweetened, flavored milk offers little nutritional value to students, and instead contributes to the poor health of area children.

About 40 percent of Latino fifth-grade students in Fresno County are not at a healthy weight , according to KidsData.org.

"One serving of flavored milk contains as much added sugar as a chocolate glazed donut," Ho said. "Flavored milk, to be honest, is job security for those of us in the weight loss industry."

Eliminating flavored milk from district schools, she said, would have long-term benefits for children, schools, and the city.

"You can make a big difference in these students' lives by eliminating all flavored milk from Fresno Unified School District meals," she said. "Schools will benefit because healthier children make better students, and Fresno will benefit from having a healthier and more educated workforce."

The school district's nutrition center will respond to families' concerns by surveying parents and students regarding their milk preferences, district spokeswoman Susan Bedi said last Friday.

"We want to get some input before we make that decision," Bedi said.

About 60 percent of the milk consumed by district students is chocolate milk, she said. The non-fat chocolate milk served in the district has been reformulated to no longer contain high-fructose corn syrup.

Strawberry milk has already been removed from cafeterias for the coming school year, she said.

"We are committed to providing our students with a very nutritious lunch and breakfast," she said.

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