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Could Chocolate Milk Sour Chula Vista’s Progress On Childhood Obesity?

A student drinks milk, Aug. 15, 2017.
Megan Burks
A student drinks milk, Aug. 15, 2017.
Could Chocolate Milk Sour Chula Vista’s Progress On Childhood Obesity?
Could Chocolate Milk Sour Chula Vista’s Progress On Childhood Obesity? GUESTS: Megan Burks, education reporter, KPBS

Is back to school for San Diego County students this month. In Chula Vista is also back to school for chocolate milk. The Board of Education has voted to lift a 5-year-old ban on the beverage. I reporter says the decision has left a bad taste in the amounts of some parents and health professionalsIn 2010 the school district measured the height and weight of all of its student. It found that by sixth grade have it students were overweight and a quarter were obese. The district mobilized and in 2011 drafted a comprehensive on this policy. The superintendent announces.When you have systemic change it takes 5-10 years. We are trying to accelerate the change because were talking about kids.When we checked in 2 years later, he points to a map showing a 3% overall drop in the number of kids who are overweight. Today, the map looks better 4 years later. District spokesman post to Ace poster size map on display in the district office.By 2016, we have no more red. The last school that was in red is no longer red. That is a tremendous trend.That success is a result of several factors. They banned cupcakes and pizza parties, they emphasize physical education. It also took chocolate milk off its checkup -- cafeteria menus. Its policies have been held up as a national model. Summer dismayed when the board revise its policies.Is been moved and second to allow chocolate milk. It passes. The policy has been amended to allow chocolate milk.The board members says the chocolate milk band hasn't -- ban has resulted in too much waste. Milk consumption had dropped by 60%.Waste is another issue and I feel like we can have it conversation as a district.Sheila is a doctor and help in the end of the pilot for the Chula Vista wellness initiative. She is not agree with the decision.My answer is that it is one piece and it is a important piece.Chocolate milk has about seven calories more than regular 1% milk. It's sugar content is comparable to a half a cup of peaches and sugar.It is recommended that the kids don't consume more than five teaspoons of sugar. If you look at what is in China milk, -- chocolate milk, but it is not that much.A parent is concerned about her 9-year-old son in the district.They need to support us. If we are making changes, they need to help us.She said the district nutrition education inspired her son to become a vegetarian at age 5.I was not expecting something like that. He decide not to eat meat and he wanted for vegetables and fruits. He would eat them raw. Is that I want this because my body needs it because I needed.That is why she's not worried about her son picking up a carton of chocolate milk.He is educated about it, he makes good decisions. Other kids may not.The district policy still includes BMI testing every 2 years. Next check will be a years worth of data to make the case for or against chocolate milk.Let me go through this with you. The board decided to start serving chocolate milk again because kids were not drinking white milk?Yes, that is what they were saying. They said the number weekly servings of milk dropped from 25,000 to 11,000 since that band went into place.Are all kids serve milk whether they wanted or not?Yes, under federal guidelines, school lunches have to provide milk, roots and vegetables. I was at a school this week where kids had to take milk, they also took orange juice as an option for the fruit. They were actually discarding both of those.There is a lot of waste generated by kids. They are not finishing their plane milk, did the school see the waste itself is a problem?Yes, that was a discussion bactur. This discussion has been happening ever since rules became more stringent under President Obama. The agriculture's secretary under Trump rolled back some regulations because of waste concerns. Here in Chula Vista there was concern we are wasting a ton of food and the janitors union was saying they had a pickup a lot of wasted food.Your report mentioned positive changes since the start it's anti-obesity Graham. Is there a way to know what kind of role by getting rid of chocolate role-played that success?No, it wasn't over arcing effort. The schools did a lot with their own policy. Getting rid of cupcakes and pizza and having nutritional classes. There was so much going on that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that help them shed that rate of obesity. They could buy a percent.There probably was some concern that this turnaround about chocolate milk could signal the school district is backtracking on its commitment.I think the parents aren't ready to say the school district is backtracking. They have seen such great success and have seen this culture shift, that 5-year-old who became a vegetarian in the story, they feel the's changes are sacred and made a big impact. It makes them uneasy.The next BMI testing is next year. Did the school district say they would discontinue chocolate milk if those test show obesity is increasing?I know the district is open to continuing the discussion. One of the benefits is there are these discussions happening all the time. I think that will be happening if those obesity rates go up in 2018.

Could Chocolate Milk Sour Chula Vista’s Progress On Childhood Obesity?
It’s back to school for many San Diego County students this month. In Chula Vista, it’s also back to school for chocolate milk. The Chula Vista Elementary School District has lifted a 5-year-old ban on the beverage.

In 2010, the Chula Vista Elementary School District measured the height and weight of all of its students. What it found was alarming. By the sixth grade, more than half of its students were overweight. A quarter were obese.


The district mobilized, and in 2011 drafted a comprehensive wellness policy. No more cupcakes and pizza for birthdays, goodbye fundraisers like nacho and candy sales, and hello physical education. Chocolate milk even got the boot.

“Typically, when you have systemic change, it takes five to 10 years,” Superintendent Francisco Escobedo told KPBS that year. “We’re trying to accelerate that change because we’re talking about the lives of kids.”

Within two years, Escobedo would tout a 3 percent drop overall in the number of kids who were overweight. Today, four years later, things are looking even better.

At the district office, spokesman Anthony Millican pointed to a poster-sized map displayed in the hallway like a trophy. It represents six years of data. Swaths of red signifying high obesity rates fade to yellow.

“We see a great deal of health and wellness moving across our system so that by 2016, the last date of our BMI testing, we have no more red. The last school that was in red is no longer in red,” Millican said. “That’s a tremendous triumph.”


Obesity rates in the district have dropped 8 percent.

Chula Vista’s wellness policy has been held up as a national model, and it’s won awards and cash prizes for its work. So some were dismayed earlier this month when the board revised the policy.

Chocolate milk is back.

Board members said the chocolate milk ban resulted in too much waste — too many kids throwing away plain milk and all of its healthy nutrients. According to the district’s nutrition director, milk consumption had dropped 60 percent, from 25,000 servings a week during the 2011-2012 school year to 11,000 this July.

“For some kids, we know that this milk, whether it’s flavored or unflavored, might be the only healthy refreshment that they have throughout the day,” Millican said. “So it’s important that students get those needed nutrients.”

Discarded milk, orange juice and fruit fill a box at Castle Park Elementary School, Aug. 15, 2017.
Megan Burks
Discarded milk, orange juice and fruit fill a box at Castle Park Elementary School, Aug. 15, 2017.

RELATED: New Report Looks At Childhood Obesity In San Diego County Public Schools

Shaila Serpas is a doctor with Scripps Health and helped implement the pilot for Chula Vista’s wellness initiative. She disagrees with the board’s decision and its rationale.

“Waste is another issue,” Dr. Serpas said. “We can have that conversation as a district, in terms of composting and recycling.”

And she said kids being turned off by plain milk is exactly why they shouldn’t be introduced to flavored milk in schools.

“In the early child setting, there’s no chocolate milk served — those are all plain milks,” Serpas said. “The children acquire a taste for plain milk, so something happens when they come to a higher level like an elementary school.”

Serpas and other critics of the change also worry about consistency.

The ban wasn’t a part of the original wellness policy. It came after students who had seen posters around down recommending they steer clear of sugary drinks pointed out the discrepancy at school.

“The kids were asking, ‘Well if you’re telling us zero sugary drinks, why are we getting chocolate milk?’” Serpas said. “At that time we removed it.”

The district effort was part of a citywide campaign to improve health. Students and residents were learning about the risks of sugar-sweetened drinks at city facilities such as parks, the YMCA and the San Ysidro Health Center. And it went beyond posters.

Yudmila Guicar and her 9-year-old son learned about nutrition through cooking classes. She said they inspired her McDonald’s-loving son to become a vegetarian at age five.

“I was not expecting something like that,” Guicar said. “He decided not to eat no more meat. And he wanted more vegetables, more fruit — not even with ranch. He would just eat them raw and healthier. And he would say, ‘I want this because me body needs this, because I need it and because I made a choice.’”

Guicar said she’s worried about chocolate milk coming back to schools because she wants to preserve the new culture around health in Chula Vista.

“Our schools, they need to support us,” she said. “If we are making changes, they need to support us.”

RELATED: San Diego County Kids Outperform State In Fitness Testing. How Did Your District Do?

Most districts still serve chocolate milk. Last year, Los Angeles Unified brought it back after a five-year hiatus. (San Francisco schools recently implemented a ban.)

Sally Spero is the child nutrition director for the Lakeside Union School District. She said the extra calories and sugar — chocolate milk has about 7 calories more than regular 1 percent milk, and its sugar content is comparable to a half cup of peaches in syrup — isn’t enough to warrant the waste and lost nutritional opportunities.

“When parents ask me about the issue, I explain why we serve chocolate milk and encourage them to speak with their children about their family's goals for healthy eating and teach their child to act accordingly,” Spero said in an email. “Just try to understand that everyone does not see things the same way and serving chocolate milk and white milk both is a way to accommodate both viewpoints.”

Guicar said she knows her son will make the right choice when presented the option.

“He’s educated about it and he makes good decisions, but other kids, I’m not sure,” she said.

District spokesman Millican said if students don’t always make the healthier choice, other efforts should balance it out.

“It’s important to note that we still prohibit food like cupcakes to celebrate student birthdays. We still restrict the use of candy or food to be used as a reward or good behavior in the classroom,” he said. “So a number of components of our wellness policy are still in place.”

That includes BMI testing every two years. The next is scheduled for the fall of 2018. That’s a year’s-worth of data to help make the case for or against chocolate milk.