The great chocolate milk debate: Does it do a body good?

UPDATE: Read ‘Chocolate, strawberry milk fall out of flavor’ here.

Since Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the largest school district in the nation to ban chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus, the topic of flavored milk has received a lot of regional attention.

So what are the policies on flavored milk in San Joaquín Valley school districts? I was curious to find out how the region’s high levels of poverty, and high rates of overweight and obese kids, would play into the discussion.

Here’s a regional overview of chocolate milk policies. I’ll add more to this list as I hear about them!

In Modesto: Criss Atwell, of Modesto City Schools, said the district is keeping flavored milk on the menu, in an effort to ensure that the district’s low-income students continue to receive adequate nutrition at school.

“We have concerns that eliminating chocolate milk could impact many students’ calcium and Vitamin D intake, since lunch may be the only complete meal some students consume all day,” Atwell said in an email.

In Manteca: The Manteca Unified School District – which in 2009 won seven Gold School Awards in the HealthierUS School Challenge, through the US Department of Agriculture – is not considering banning chocolate milk from its lunch menu. (The district does not offer strawberry milk, which contains even more sugar.)

Instead, the district switched to chocolate milk made without corn syrup, and is working on reducing the number of grams of sugar per container, according to Patty Page, director of nutrition services.

“The other thing that is important to me is teaching children about making wise choices,” Page said in an e-mail. “I think that they should understand that although they may have a sweet tooth, it is healthier to choose chocolate milk rather than soda. Although it does have sugar, it also has other health benefits, unlike soda.”

In Fresno: José Alvarado, of the Fresno Unified School District, said the district is “looking into all sugars on the menu,” including in flavored milk and juices.

“It’s not necessarily just chocolate milk that has sugar,” he said in a phone interview.

In Earlimart: The district stopped serving chocolate milk in April, said food service director Clint Lara. The district now offers just 2% milk and non-fat milk.

“Yeah, we beat LA, they just got all the attention,” Lara said.

What is your take? Here’s mine: I admit, chocolate milk will always hold a special place in my heart. It tasted great with my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in third grade.

More on chocolate milk in schools:

Video: Swimming in potential health problems

UPDATE: A link to the story – ‘Parklawn’s sewer woes’ – can be found here.

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When you enter downtown Modesto, a giant arch reads: Water Wealth Contentment Health.

But just minutes from downtown Modesto, the residents of a lower-income community are dealing with the health issues that could arise from failing septic tanks and the lack of a sewer or drainage system.

In Parklawn, an unincorporated Stanislaus County community, residents have too much water in their small backyards, due to their long-time reliance on septic tanks. The residents, many of whom are or were farmworkers and cannery employees, also suffer from a lack of wealth, and face serious health concerns.

On Nov. 2., Modesto residents will cast an advisory vote on whether the city should extend sewer lines to the unincorporated community. (You can read more about the issues facing the residents of Parklawn in next week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.)

For now, I invite you to travel to a few of Parklawn’s backyards, to see and hear about the community’s problems for yourself.

Parklawn resident Francisco Gonzalez points out where he stores the water discharged from his homes’ dishwasher and washing machine. Even though he disinfects the holes with bleach at least once a week, he said they attract mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, and rats. (In Spanish.)

Conrado Castillo describes how the backyard of his in-laws’ house is so saturated, from years of discharging waste water into the yard, that the ground is no longer level and one of the home’s walls has cracked. Castillo is concerned that a health epidemic could break out in Parklawn, due to the abundant flies, mosquitoes, and other creatures that are attracted to standing water and damp areas.

Parklawn resident José Franco says he is running out of room to build any more leach lines in his backyard.