Stuffed into a bill that makes “minor revisions” to education statutes that passed both chambers on the final night of the legislative session was a provision mandating what type of beverages can be served in schools.
The amended bill says “low-fat milk that is unflavored or fat-free milk that is flavored or unflavored that contains no artificial sweeteners, nonnutritive sweeteners or sugar alcohols, no added sodium and no more than four grams of sugar per ounce” will be able to be served. Also, the milk must not receive more than 35 percent of the calories from fat per portion and no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat per portion. Fruit or vegetable juices must have no added sugars or sweeteners or caffeine.
The legislation also dictates the size of beverages. Aside from water, no beverage shall exceed 8 fluid ounces for elementary schools and 12 ounces for middle and high schools.
Pat Baird, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the president of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said that the language means that chocolate milk would be eliminated from school lunches because there is no chocolate milk without sodium.
“This will have a significant impact on school meal participation and ultimately nutrient intake for students,” Baird said. “School chocolate milk has between 60-90 mg added sodium, which is only 2-4 percent of sodium intake in a day. Removing chocolate milk hardly moves the needle on added sodium intake; but what it does remove is critical nutrients for growth and development.”
She said the majority of the milk sold in schools is chocolate and “research has shown that when chocolate milk is not served, milk consumption drops 35 percent and does not recover.”
Rep. Timothy Ackert, the ranking Republican on the Education Committee, said they were told by legislative attorneys that they had to adopt the provision based on the federal Hunger-Free Kids Act. He said they were told they couldn’t change the language and if they did they could risk losing federal funds headed to the state.
But he said the no-sodium provision causes some concerns since some bottled water also contains traces of sodium. He said they are still working to find out how much leeway the state Education Department has regarding the sodium provision. The state contracts with Coca-Cola, which sells Dasani bottled water with traces of sodium.
As for the underlying bill and how it treats chocolate milk, Ackert said he believes the “benefits far outweigh the negatives” and he hopes they can find a solution.
Lawmakers proposed the bill because they were concerned with childhood obesity.
Sen. President Donald Williams testified in February on a similar bill that would have similarly eliminated whole milk from childcare facilities. That bill didn’t pass, but during his testimony he cited a Centers for Disease Control report that found that “the leading source of added sugar among children is sugar-sweetened drinks.”
John Bailey II of the American Heart Association was the only one to testify in favor of the beverage provision in March during the public hearing on the bill.
“Even if students eat a healthy lunch, research shows they often still consume excess calories from a la carte items their cafeteria might serve,” Bailey told the Education Committee. “That’s why clearly defining nutritional standards for milks and setting the standards for healthier beverage options is critical for improving children’s diets and reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.”
It passed 144-0 in the House and also was approved unanimously in the Senate.
If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs the bill the new beverage rules will go into effect on July 1.