Support the change you wish to see

Tags: nutrition, dairy council

Support the change you wish to see

By Teresa Wagner, M.S., R.D./L.D.
Director of Dairy Confidence and Medical Outreach, Dairy Max Incorporated

A new clinical report released October 2008 by the American Academy of Pediatrics at the National Conference and Exhibition doubled the recommended amount of vitamin D for infants, children and adolescents due to a resurgence of rickets.

In a country where our children are overfed, they are undernourished.

Encouraging adequate intake of nutrient-rich foods is critical for health professionals to ensure essential vitamins and minerals needed to power a healthy lifestyle are provided, while maximizing the nutrition from calories consumed. Rather than simply focusing on calories alone, “good or bad foods” or “nutrients to avoid,” the concept shifts attention to the total nutritive value of foods and beverages children should be eating. It is clear there is dire need for this change.

Dairy foods such as low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt are nutrient-rich and provide a significant source of nutrients including vitamin D. Due to their unique nutrient package, the most recent dietary guidelines identified low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products as a “Food Group to Encourage” providing three of the five nutrients that most children’s diets lack—calcium, magnesium and potassium.1 Additionally, they are the main source of vitamin D, helping to build strong bones and healthy bodies.

Since the overwhelming majority of children do not consume the recommended three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or milk products per day, increasing children’s consumption of milk to recommended levels can improve diet quality. A new child nutrition white paper, “Safeguarding the Health of America’s Children: The Importance of Dairy Foods in Child Nutrition Programs” provides a summary of the child nutrition environment in our country and the positive role of dairy in child nutrition, including government-funded feeding programs. The National Dairy Council and 17 regional affiliates work with schools across the country to help encourage more consumption of all “Food Groups to Encourage,” including low-fat and fat-free dairy products, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Unpublished data from USDA’s third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA III) show significant changes in consumption patterns have developed between the first SNDA report from 1992 and the most current data from 2005. In the 1992 assessment, 28.6 percent of students who drank milk chose either low-fat or fat-free milk, while the latest SNDA data show that 79.2 percent of milk-drinking students now choose low-fat or fat-free milk when they do make milk their beverage choice.2

A cornerstone initiative is offering appealing low-fat or fat-free plain and flavored milk in schools. In 2004, the AAP issued a policy statement recommending only low-fat plain and flavored milk, 100-percent fruit juices and water served or vended in schools. Changes in packaging to plastic, resealable and recyclable bottles for milk and offering a variety of milk flavors (New Look of School Milk program) as well as the Expanding Breakfast program options inside the classroom have all been successful in improving the nutrition environment. Increased participation in breakfast programs is associated with increased academic test scores among students, improved daily attendance and better class participation. According to the dietary guidelines for Americans, small amounts of sugars added to nutrient-rich foods, such as low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, may increase consumption of these foods by enhancing the taste, so overall nutrient intake is improved without contributing excessive calories. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who drink either flavored or plain milk consume more nutrients and have a lower or comparable body mass index than children who don’t drink milk.3

The bottom line is it takes changes in environment and individual behaviors, supported by small, acceptable steps to incorporate healthy habits into the lives of our children. The goal of health professionals and school officials as well as policymakers should be to make our schools an environment in which children learn not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also a healthy lifestyle to carry them into adulthood.

Child nutrition programs can be the change to safeguard children’s health over the short- and long-term by making sure their nutritional needs are met on a daily basis through offering nutrient-rich foods, including dairy. Support of New Look of School Milk and Expanding Breakfast programs especially during 2009 when Congress will have the opportunity to renew the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 can continue to improve the overall quality of American diets. This modeling of consumption of nutrient-rich foods can potentially reduce the economic and social burden of chronic disease. Health professionals could, in turn, focus on the more positive aspects of health care such as prevention and wellness.

The child nutrition white paper and more information on child nutrition initiatives can be found at


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research, Nutrition, and Analysis, School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-III: Volume I: School Foodservice, School Food Environment, and Meals Offered and Served, by Anne Gordon, Mary Kay Crepinsek, Renée Nogales, and Elizabeth Condon. Project Officer: Patricia McKinney. Alexandria, VA: 2007.
  3. Murphy MM, Douglass JS, Johnson RK, Spence LA. Drinking flavored or plain milk is positively associated with nutrient intake and is not associated with adverse effects on weight status in U.S. children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008; 108:631-639.