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The pros, cons and politics of removing chocolate milk

Starting this fall, students at San Francisco Unified School District will no longer have the option of chocolate milk in school lunches. The California district said it has banned the beverage due to its added sugar and extra calories.

“We’ve always gotten a lot of calls and complaints from parents because it adds a lot of sugar to kids’ diets,” says Libby Albert, director of school nutrition services for the district.

Last year, the district piloted eliminating chocolate milk at five schools. While Albert says the change affected milk consumption at first, students didn’t take long to get used to it.

“What we found over the year is that initially the kids didn’t select the [plain] milk ... but it pretty quickly went back to was before,” she says.

SFUSD officials say they found no decrease in the number of milk cartons kids took at two of the pilot schools, and only a slight decrease in the other three. The actual ban will begin this fall at the district’s elementary and middle schools and will roll out to its high schools in the spring.

Not all students readily accept plain milk, however. A 2014 study by Cornell University showed that eliminating the chocolate variety can decrease milk consumption while causing increased waste and fewer student lunch purchases. Chocolate milk was added back to the menu at Los Angeles Unified School District after six years of its absence, after the district concluded that offering the beverage caused a 23% increase in milk consumption.

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