Got Milk Fat?

10/27/2012 7:00 AM
By Tabitha Goodling Central Pa. Correspondent

Differing Views on Low-fat Milk in Schools

Got milk fat?

It depends who you ask.

Educators, farmers and doctors have varying views whether milk fat is a hindrance or a help in a child’s development.

The recent government rulings fueled by the USDA make nonfat, flavored milk and low-fat (one percent or one-half percent) plain milk available in school lunches as opposed to the option of whole milk. The idea is to make students choose the milk with the least amount of fat, deemed healthier by the USDA, and appeal to taste buds with flavorings such as chocolate and strawberry.

The USDA recommendations are the result of a series of studies that began in 2005 and ran through 2009 in school lunch rooms across the nation to update and improve previous lunch guidelines. Much of what was determined for the new lunch regulations came at the advice of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. An improved menu, the MNA suggested, would include increased availability of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, fat-free and low-fat fluid milk in school as well as reduced levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals.

The final rule of the Nutritional Standards of National School Lunch and School Breakfast that was established on Jan. 26 of this year is available to be seen online at The act sprang into action in time for this present 2012-2013 school year.

Some parents and farmers oppose the absence of milk fat in school lunches because they insist brain development is at stake.

“I feed my kids lots of milk fat, and they are not fat,” said Dr. Charis Lindroth, chiropractor and part owner of Red Earth Farm, a CSA in Orwigsburg, Pa., with her husband. She is the mother of three adopted children, ages 2, 10, and 16.

“My experience has been that this kind of fat is healthier for the body. The oils from animals create stability in the body,” stressing that all three of her children have healthy weight levels for their ages and drink whole milk regularly but avoid other sugars and carbohydrates in their diets.

“Fat is extremely important in brain development,” she said.

Lindroth called whole milk a “decent” form of fat that creates a feeling of fullness and satisfaction that keeps kids from seeking more calories to consume.

Those who agree that milk fat is not harmful includes cookbook author Shannon Hayes.

“The animal fat-cholesterol myth is just that. A myth.”

Hayes is an author and operates Sap Bush Hollow Farm in West Fulton, N.Y. She sees no need to remove whole milk from the lunch line.

Hayes referred to similar disagreements 35 years ago.

“In January 1977, Senator George McGovern chaired the select committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. After hearing the unproven testimonies of Ancel Keys and some other anti-animal fat activists, the committee published the Dietary Goals for the United States,’ recommending that all Americans reduce their fat, saturated fat and cholesterol consumption, and increase their carbohydrate consumption to 55-60 percent of calories.” Hayes also questioned if the guidelines from USDA are due to the fact that whole milk is more expensive than non-fat.

Calls to the USDA seeking comment were not returned.

Whole milk is still accepted as healthy for toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children drink whole milk until at least 2 years of age.

“These dietary recommendations have to be individualized to an extent,” said Pinnacle Health pediatrician Dr. Craig Shrift.

“I have had overweight babies that I have lowered to a lower-fat milk before age 2 to try to control the weight,” he noted, adding he has also had underweight children who needed to add whole milk to their diets past the age of 2.

There is more to be considered before assuming every child needs to stay away from milk with 2 percent or 3.5 percent (whole milk) fat, Shrift concluded. He pointed out that a child’s activity level and the remainder of his or her dietary habits need to be examined before one can assume that every child needs the same diet.

While making all milk choices available at the school would be ideal, it would work only if the child picked the correct milk for himself, the doctor said, but believes that it is not realistic. His solution is to add the choice of 2 percent milk, calling it a “good compromise.”

Dr. Stephen W. Tifft, managing physician for Roseville Pediatrics in Lancaster, Pa., is dedicated to the AAP recommendations that whole milk is only beneficial until age 2 years.

“After that age the recommendation is to switch to skim or low-fat milk in order to be attuned to cholesterol issues and that the fat is not as necessary for the brain development,” he said.

Tifft said he does not have a problem with schools offering low-fat milk and does not recommend whole fat milk consumption at home.

Mindy Rottmund is the Family and Consumer Science coordinator at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa. She said she teaches her students about AAP recommendations regarding milk fat until a child is a toddler, but said she does not stop the buck there.

“If a parent has a picky eater, I tell my students that drinking whole milk can continue to provide the child with all their nutritional needs, as it contains the proteins, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, water and fats needed for growth and development,” she said.

Most of her students, she said, prefer to drink low-fat milk. She said she tells them that whole milk is better than no milk at all.

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