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New Report Challenges Whether Chocolate Milk is Better than No Milk in Schools

"Milk - it does a body good," claimed a '90s dairy industry advertising campaign, and few have dared to question the industry's position that children need calcium and vitamin D however they can get it, even if it comes from sweetened flavored milk. (The National Dairy Council's latest campaign is even called "Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk.") But a landmark study on calcium and vitamin D nutrition recently published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) poses a serious challenge to that idea, finding that only girls aged 9 to 18 might need more calcium - and only by an amount contained in a half-serving of calcium-fortified cereal.

In setting new dietary standards, the IOM found claims that Americans are deficient in calcium and vitamin D to be greatly exaggerated. The dairy industry, which has spent millions of dollars promoting sugary flavored milk in schools based on the idea that children are threatened with a "calcium crisis," is fighting efforts to remove flavored milk from school menus, saying kids will be in danger of not getting the calcium they need to build strong bones.

Meanwhile, a growing body of scientific evidence links sugar with an epidemic of childhood obesity as well as a host of related health problems: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even an unprecedented outbreak of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children.

According to the IOM, girls leading up to and during puberty typically consume around 823 milligrams of calcium daily. They should aim to get about 200 milligrams more, or "between 1,000 and 1,100" milligrams, said Dr. Steven A. Abrams, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine who specializes in the calcium intake of children and one of the authors of the IOM report.