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House vote could return whole milk to schools

Dairy groups say nutrition concerns unfounded.

Joshua Baethge

December 12, 2023

2 Min Read
Kids eating in school cafeteria
Getty Images

The House is set to vote this week on a bill allowing whole milk in school meals. The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act was introduced by Ag Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson, R- Pa., and Rep. Kim Schrier earlier this year. If passed, the bill would allow both whole milk and reduced fat milk to be served in school cafeterias. No less than 135 House lawmakers have endorsed the legislation.

USDA banned whole milk and reduced fat milk in 2012 in an effort to combat childhood obesity. Dairy industry advocates say science is on their side, noting that whole milk contains a wide array of vitamins.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, research indicates full fat from dairy products like whole milk does not cause weight gain or increase the risk of heart disease. The association also notes that that 75% of all milk sales are either whole or 2%.

“Since whole and 2% milk were banned from school meals menus more than a decade ago, meal participation has declined while food waste has climbed, meaning our children are actually consuming fewer essential nutrients,” IDFA CEO Michael Dykes says. “This is especially concerning considering underconsumption of milk and dairy products is prevalent among school-aged children, where between 68% and 76.2% of school age boys and between 77.4% and 94.3% of school age girls are failing to meet recommended levels of dairy intake per federal guidelines.”

Others are not so convinced. This week a group of 15 health and nutrition organizations sent a letter to leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce opposing the bill. They say allowing more saturated fat in school meals would undo work done to improve child health. To support their position, they note that federal regulations prohibit whole milk labels from touting the benefit of calcium since the beverage is high in saturated fat.

“Even with the current nutrition standards that limit saturated fat in school meals, most children, on average, still consume more saturated fat than is recommended,” their letter says. “According to the DGA (Dairy Guidelines for Americans), more than 80% of children ages 5-8 years, more than 85% of youth ages 9-13, and over 75% of youth ages 14-18 consume too much saturated fat. Allowing full-fat milk in school would only worsen this problem.”

Officials with the National Milk Producers Federation argue that the lack of school milk options is what’s keeping kids from meeting nutrition guidelines. They say a “growing body of scientific evidence” shows whole and reduced fat milks provide numerous health benefits for kids.

The House is expected to vote on the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act on Wednesday or Thursday. The Senate is also considering similar legislation.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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