Just the facts. From the experts.

Most of us were on the receiving end of this question as kids in school:  white milk or chocolate milk? Now, the Los Angeles school district has made the choice for our kids. The school board voted to ban chocolate and strawberry milk starting July 1, 2011.

You ask, how can something so integrated into our food lives, create a turf war? We decided to head straight to the source, our Best Food Facts experts, to find out the real story on the milk war.

Andrea Garber, PhD, RD,Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of California - San Francisco, views this as a step in the right direction. According to Dr. Garber, "Foods with high high levels of high fructose corn syrup, such as fast food and soda, are contributing to the obesity epidemic."

“I really support this type of movement,” says Dr. Garber. “Kids are eating too much sugar and processed foods.”

On the other side, Ruth MacDonald, PhD, RD, professor and chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University, has a different view. She says the issue is much more complicated than it seems, and that taking flavored milk out of the schools is not the way to address the obesity crisis. To strengthen her defense Dr. MacDonald says milk has a lot of health benefits such as calcium, proteins and vitamin D, and that alone is a huge plus for growing children.

“To just pick out one item like chocolate milk and say we must ban it because it contains sugar is very short-sighted and I think it doesn’t take into account all the benefits milk has,” says Dr. MacDonald. "Milk, with or without flavorings, provides critically needed calcium, vitamin D and protein to children. As part of a balanced diet, flavored milk contributes to the nutritional needs of growing children with a reasonable caloric-nutrient density compared to other beverages.”

Dr. Garber says that learning food preferences, and in this case, sugary food preferences, could lead to obesity in later years. She says the goal of removing favored milk from school is one step to help kids direct their preference to healthier foods as early as possible and will help establish healthier lifestyles in the future.

“Food preferences are set at a very, very early age,” says Dr. Garber. “We need to provide those options, plain milk, in this case, to school children. Providing sugary milk at an early age sets the preference for sugary milk and it is almost impossible to undo that later in life.”

She says the data shows that children’s intake of refined carbohydrate and simple sugars has increased enormously in the past few decades. “Empty calories” from these processed foods are displacing key nutrients from real foods and contributing to the rise in obesity in children.  

But Dr. MacDonald says data also suggests that children who drink chocolate milk benefit from the nutrients, and they don’t see a severe caloric intake increase. She says, compared to soda drinks, skim milk, orange juice and chocolate milk are a better choice from a nutrient perspective. However, the same amount of soda has fewer calories than the orange juice and chocolate milk and is about the same as the skim milk. Overall, it comes down to what you are looking for in your beverage: nutrition density or calories.


Skim Milk


Low Fat  Chocolate Milk


Orange Juice





per 1 cup serving

Protein (gm)





Fat (gm)





Sugar (gm)










Calcium (mg)






Information obtained from USDA Nutrient Database


“You really have to look at everything and compare it,” says Dr. MacDonald, “and you can’t just simply say that because something contains sugar it must be banned.”

Who will win this battle over our school milk? There is some common ground, between our experts – they both agree that something must be done to address the challenges in the school lunch system today. 


Dr. Andrea Garber Click to hear thoughts from Dr. Andrea Garber: Garber audio


Dr. Ruth MacDonald Click to hear thoughts from Dr. Ruth MacDonald: MacDonald audio

What do you think about the ban on chocolate and strawberry milk? Share your thoughts in our comment section!

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