FREDERICKSBURG ADVANCE, ADELE UPHAUS
The U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month passed legislation co-sponsored by members of Virginia’s Congressional delegation from both parties that would allow flavored and unflavored whole milk to be served in school cafeterias.
Under current regulations, only fat-free or low-fat milk can be served by schools participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program—which is 95% of all public schools in the country, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act revises requirements for milk provided by the program and would permit schools to serve whole milk in addition to reduced-fat, low-fat or fat-free milk.
It also waives fluid milk from the calculations of saturated fat content in school meals, which must be less than 10% of total calories, per USDA regulations.
“Milk fat included in any fluid milk provided by the program must not be considered saturated fat for the purposes of measuring compliance with USDA regulations,” a summary of the bill at Congress.gov reads.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat whose 7th congressional district includes the City of Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties, and Rep. Ben Cline, a Republican who represents the 6th congressional district, were initial co-sponsors of the bill, which was first introduced by Pennsylvania representative Glenn Thompson, a Republican who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, in February of 2023.
Spanberger is the only Virginian representative on the House Agriculture Committee.
“Whole milk can be a source of many nutrients that kids often lack—including calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and zinc. When students toss their skim milk into the cafeteria garbage cans, they are not getting any of these vitamins and minerals,” Spanberger wrote in a December 13 press release about the bill’s passage in the House. “By allowing schools to provide students with a larger selection of milk, our bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act would help kids maintain a diet of essential nutrients and build healthy habits. I’m glad to see Republicans and Democrats agree on the need to support healthy kids, and I encourage my U.S. Senate colleagues to follow our lead and send this legislation to the President’s desk.”
Bob Good, a Republican who represents Virginia’s 5th congressional district, signed on as a co-sponsor in April of 2023. The 5th congressional district includes Pittsylvania County, which along with Augusta and Rockingham counties lead the state in terms of milk production, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.
The bill is now in the Senate, where it has been read twice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its Healthy Beverage Quick Reference Guide, which was assembled by its Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight, recommends whole milk for children up to age 2.
The guidelines state that low-fat or fat-free milk can be considered, in consultation with a pediatrician, for toddlers between 12 months and 2 years old if there is “excessive weight gain or family history of obesity, dyslipidemia, or other cardiovascular diseases.”
After age 2, the guidelines state, all children “should transition to plain, pasteurized fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.”
The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 also recommend fat-free or low-fat milk.
But some recent studies suggest that consuming whole milk either has no effect on children’s weight or a positive effect. A study published in 2020 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which analyzed 14 other studies that included 20,897 children aged 1 to 18 years old, found that higher cow-milk fat intake was associated with lower childhood obesity.
“International guidelines that recommend reduced-fat milk for children might not lower the risk of childhood obesity,” the study concludes.
A 2017 study published by the National Institute of Health’s Preventive Medicine Reports found that full-fat milk prevented against “severe childhood obesity” in Latino children.
Whole milk also enables children to absorb vitamin D, which supports immune health and strong, healthy bones. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it needs to be paired with fat in order to be absorbed by and distributed around the body.