Got (Whole) Milk?

A House committee approved a bill that would allow cafeterias to serve full-fat and 2% milk. Supporters, including the dairy industry, say that students are more likely to drink milk when it tastes better to them.

Opponents say that children can get the same nutrients from lower-fat milk. The USDA’s school meals program has banned whole and 2% milk since 2012 when new national dietary guidelines took effect recommending children over age 2 drink nonfat or 1% milk to help limit their saturated fat intake.

Schools participating in the Agriculture Department’s school meals program haven’t been permitted to serve either whole milk—which has 3.25% milk fat—or 2% milk, since 2012, when new rules went into effect intended to align school offerings with the country’s dietary guidelines. Those recommendations advise that children over the age of two should consume either nonfat or 1% milk as part of an effort to limit how much saturated fat they consume. 

For the dairy industry, the push to offer whole milk in schools is part of an effort to ensure that students grow into milk-drinking adults. Whole and 2% milk are the most commonly sold varieties, according to the USDA.

“Kids in school are where the milk drinkers and consumers of tomorrow are formed,” said Peter Vitaliano, chief economist at the National Milk Producers Federation.  

Sales of drinking milk are declining as fewer people eat cereal at home in the morning, while sales of other dairy products such as cheese and powdered milk and whey have increased, he said. 


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“Like farmers producing any commodity, they’re very interested in maintaining and growing sales for their products,” he said. 

But Meghan Maroney, who leads federal child-nutrition programs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food and health watchdog group, said most children already consume too much saturated fat, which would be exacerbated with the addition of higher-fat milk.

“Congress should not be reversing this hard-fought win by making school meals less healthy by allowing whole milk,” she said.  

Much of the debate around whole milk centers on the question of whether fat from dairy products is different from saturated fat coming from other foods.  

Some researchers have conducted studies showing that full-fat dairy products haven’t led to a higher risk of weight gain in children and may help them feel full more quickly.