Chocolate in the schools
Tuesday, November 10, 2009 | 11:03 AM ET
by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca
A surprising controversy erupted last week when it was suggested that Prince Edward Island should subsidize the price of chocolate milk in its schools.
Long condemned as a candy bar in a carton, chocolate milk is now more commonly viewed by nutritionists as almost as good as unflavoured milk, containing all the same nutrients but with a little bit of sugar added.
And so came the suggestion for a subsidy, in a bid to prompt more children to drink more milk. The government has subsidized white milk through the P.E.I. School Milk Foundation since the 1980s.
Several schools and the Health Eating Alliance are in favour of the change, but the School Milk Foundation says it hasn't got the money.
Then people started to comment on CBC's web story, and it was not favourable. Comments abounded from the sugar-is-poison camp, and there was a significant contingent from the soy milk brigade as well.
"Milk is for baby cows, not kids!" wrote someone with the nickname of girsharmony.
"Eat properly and you have no need for milk! That stuff is full of nasty hormones and chemicals anyway, I'd rather give a kid pop."
It's always difficult to judge what people are really thinking about a story. It's easy to be fooled when dozens post negative comments, forgetting that thousands of people read it without commenting. A voluntary poll is hardly more scientific, but a reader poll is currently running with close to 80 per cent agreeing it's a good idea to subsidize chocolate milk.
But the debate did get me thinking: just how much sugar is in chocolate milk? Some commenters were even comparing it to an Oh Henry bar. Is that fair?
Well, it depends. Sugar in chocolate milk varies by manufacturer. One website I looked at listed almost 20 grams of added sugar in chocolate milk, close to five teaspoons. That's not far off from an Oh Henry bar, which was listed with 26.3 grams of sugar.
Mind you, that was in a 57-gram bar. When I went across the street, the Oh Henry bar I found on the shelf was 85 grams. Then again, listings for chocolate milk were for 250-millilitre servings, and the chocolate milk in the fridge was in 250-millilitre bottles.
Once again, grotesque serving sizes come into play here.
After the controversy hit the web page, CBC P.E.I.'s radio morning show brought in nutritionist Jennifer Taylor to comment.
"If you look at the big picture of how children eat, I don't think it's chocolate milk we should be getting all whipped up about," said Taylor.
Taylor said there is clear evidence that only about half of children on P.E.I. are getting enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets. Milk, she said, is the easiest way to supplement that. And if it's chocolate, that little bit of sugar is a small price to pay.
It doesn't hurt that the local dairy has relatively low sugar content in its milk, only about three teaspoons added per cup.
Should children be encouraged to drink chocolate milk?
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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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