Should Children Drink Chocolate Milk?
The answer is yes! Contrary to misperceptions that flavored milk, like chocolate milk, is not a healthy choice for children because of its added sugar, the science shows that consuming flavored milk not only can confer health benefits, but eliminating children’s access to flavored milk may do more harm than good.
Flavored milk’s sugar content. Flavored milk contains the same nutrients as white milk, yet contributes only a minor amount of added sugar to children’s diets. Soft drinks and non-carbonated sweetened beverages contribute 40% (~7.5 tsp) of the added sugars to the diets of children ages two to 18, whereas flavored milk contributes only about 4% (~0.8 tsp) of added sugars. Since 2007, the added sugar content of flavored milk served in U.S. schools has decreased by about 55%. Children have been shown to readily accept flavored milk with lower sugar and fat content.
While reducing intake of added sugars is encouraged, it is recognized that there is room in the diet to include limited amounts of added sugars to improve the taste and palatability of some nutrient-dense foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in their policy statement, identifies flavored milk as “… a good example of the balance needed to limit added sugars and yet promote nutrient-rich foods.” The AAP adds “Sugars consumed in nutrient-poor foods and beverages [sugary soft drinks, candy] are the primary problem to be addressed, not simply the sugars themselves.”
What the Science Says. To help dispel myths related to flavored milk, a 2016 review critically examined 53 published studies on flavored milk’s role in children’s health. The author concludes, “… flavored milk consumption is not associated with higher added sugar intake and flavored milk remains a low-cost, palatable beverage choice to help close the gap between calcium needs and intake, especially among older children who are not meeting the recommended calcium requirements during a time of critical bone mass development.”
Below are some additional findings from this review:
- Chocolate milk is especially popular among children. When offered a choice at school, children drink more chocolate milk than white milk and consume more milk overall, with less milk waste. This finding is important considering children’s average intake of dairy is below recommendations. Even skipping just one serving of milk a day can put kids at a nutritional disadvantage since many of the essential nutrients milk provides are difficult to replace.
- Flavored milk can help meet children’s nutrient needs. Flavored milk is a nutrient-dense beverage providing nine essential nutrients important for good health, including three nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, and potassium) often low in children’s diets.
- For children who do not like white milk, flavored milk offers a tasty, beneficial alternative to help meet recommended intakes of dairy, provide the health benefits of milk and milk products, and possibly replace less healthful beverages in the diet.
- Consumption of flavored milk has not been proven to cause children to become overweight.
- The majority of studies report no association between flavored milk consumption and tooth decay.
Bottom line. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, while recommending consumption of less than 10% of calories from added sugars per day, points out that you can cut down on added sugars and still enjoy the foods and beverages you love. Consuming flavored milk, like chocolate milk, which is a nutrient-dense beverage, can help children improve their diet quality and meet recommended daily servings of dairy – 3 cups per day of fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products for those age nine years and older and 2 1/2 cups per day for children four to eight years.