A recent study in US schools shows that students' milk consumption and nutrition status can be significantly improved by increasing the range and quality of milk provided in schools.
In a year-long study involving more than 100,000 students in 146 schools, enhancements to milk packaging and merchandising, flavours, varieties and temperature increased milk sales by 22 per cent in secondary test schools and 15 per cent in elementary test schools.
The US National Dairy Council noted that currently only 12 and 30 per cent of female and male teenagers respectively consume the recommended daily servings of dairy foods.
"Based on research, we know that on average, only those children who choose milk during the noontime meal come close to meeting their recommended calcium intake," said Dr Rachel Johnson, professor of Nutrition and acting dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Vermont.
"With the sharp rise in consumption of soft drinks and other beverages at the expense of milk, children may be at greater risk for bone fractures, as well as hypertension and osteoporosis later in life," she added.
Prior to the study, 40 per cent of children reported they disliked the traditional milk carton offered in schools. This number was halved with the introduction of a new plastic package, new flavours and the handling improvements that ensured a more consistent and colder temperature for the milk.
In addition, more students reported choosing milk at lunch, and milk plate waste measurements showed that in both eight and 10-ounce packaging, children drank more of the milk they took.
In the student survey, 51 per cent of respondents in 4th to 12th grade identify flavoured milk as the "type of milk most often drank at school lunch." This represents a 10 per cent increase over pre-pilot survey measures, according to the study.
Over the course of the study, more students participated in the school meal programme after the enhanced milk products were introduced. Average daily participation in meals served in schools were almost 5 per cent higher in secondary test schools versus control schools at lunch.
Specific factors used to enhance the milk used in the study included lowfat flavour varieties (at least one new flavour in addition to chocolate, usually strawberry), convenient packaging (plastic resealable in various sizes) and merchandising, better refrigeration and alternate sales points (a la carte and vending in addition to meal line).
The study, called "The School Milk Pilot Test," was co-sponsored by the American School Food Service Association and National Dairy Council.