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Dairy Industry Efforts to Market Milk to Teens Face Criticism

Maggie Kohn headshotWords by Maggie Kohn
Health & Education
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One would think that when it comes to positioning its product as “responsible,” the dairy industry would have it made. After all, milk is known for its wholesome and nutritious qualities and the world’s leading health experts recommend that everyone consumes it.

What could be controversial about getting teenagers to drink more milk?

Well, some health advocates are now criticizing the dairy industry for its push to expand milk consumption among teens by sponsoring coffee and latte bars in high schools.  

Facing declining consumption rates of milk, the Florida Dairy Group is one of several regional groups around the United States trying to find new ways to market the beverage. Through it’s “Moo-Lah for Schools” program, the group funds freestanding coffee bars in high schools. Its website explains that the coffee bars are an opportunity for schools to “serve 8oz. of milk with 2 oz. of coffee and added flavorings that fit into your school wellness policy,” and to encourage “students that might not normally select milk with their school meals to consume milk.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets rules for schools participating in its meal programs, says high schools can sell espresso drinks that are no bigger than 12 ounces, and that are made with fat-free or 1 percent milk.

In the Southwest, the regional dairy group Dairy Max, which represents more than 900 dairy farmers across seven states,  has provided similar grants to schools for coffee programs through its” Dairy-4-Schools Moo-La-Tte” program. “Great for high schools, coffee bars create opportunities for students and school faculty to grab a cup at school instead of their local coffee shop!” says the program’s website.

The industry is also hoping the coffee bars will expand consumption of other dairy products such as smoothies, and encourages schools to offer other healthy a la carte items at the coffee bars such as oatmeal and salads.

Industry aims to increase milk consumption

The programs are the latest tactic by the industry to help dairy farmers reclaim consumers after facing nearly 40 years of falling consumption rates.

A report by the USDA found that since 1977, mean intakes of milk have decreased for children and adolescents. Among adolescents, the decline is particularly acute; the percent reporting milk consumption was 76  percent in 1977-1978, but only 48 percent in 2005-2006.

Health and nutrition advocates agree that milk provides protein, nutrients and vitamins, including vitamin D and calcium, critical to teens’ growing bodies. In fact, they recommend that teens drink three cups of milk each day.

Health advocates raise concerns

As a parent who struggles to get her own teenage daughter to drink milk, the school programs seem innovative and helpful. But not everyone agrees that the dairy industry should be lauded for its efforts to support the nutrition of America’s teens.

Critics claim that the new coffee cafés will create a population of over-caffeinated kids and that there are other ways to increase dairy intake.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption among children and adolescents, citing potentially harmful effects on developing bodies. And while dairy is an efficient way to get calcium and vitamin D, it’s not the only way to get such nutrients, Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and representative for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Associated Press. Muth added that there are ways to encourage students to get the nutrients of milk without promoting caffeine habits that could lead to headaches, agitation and lack of sleep.

Muth has a valid point, but is it realistic to attempt to eliminate all caffeine from today’s teens’ diets? With energy drinks of dubious claims continuing to explode on the market and vending machines full of sugary drinks, is one 12-ounce latte really that terrible of an alternative?

Image credit: Tye Doring/Unsplash

Maggie Kohn headshotMaggie Kohn

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

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