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How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver's 'Food Revolution' Flunked Out

After two months, kids hated the new meals, milk consumption plummeted, and many students dropped out of the school lunch program altogether.

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It is disingenuous not to acknowledge nearly half the sugar in milk is lactose. The real scandal is how Jamie's zero-tolerance policy for flavored milk caused a huge drop in milk consumption. For the two months before the Food Revolution program was introduced, milk consumption at Central City Elementary was 632 units a day. For two months after, it plunged to 472 units a day.

Goff says, "I was upset the most with the flavored milk consumption. The reason they advocate it is it increases the consumption of milk and get the vitamins and nutrients they need. ... When students stop drinking milk that's a great cause of concern. I don't believe the sugar content is a great cause of concern." Nonetheless, adds Goff, if there are concerns about children receiving too much sugar from flavored milk, the state can work with processors to lower the amount of sugar.

In what may surprise some, Jan Poppendieck is no absolutist when it comes to flavored milk either. She brings up another important factor, "eating habits." Fond of chocolate milk as a child, she says "I don't have all the negative connotations when I see chocolate milk. I would encourage kids to try low-fat unflavored milk, but I wouldn't be in a hurry to ban chocolate milk from my cafeteria." She laughs after making this comment, saying it may haunt her for years to come.

There's also another complexity behind the spread of flavored milk: those dueling nutrition guidelines and lack of funds. If a school district finds a meal has too much fat, it can raise the calorie count to lower the proportion of fat. "The quickest, least expensive fix ... is to add sugar," writes Poppendieck. "Sweetened, flavored milks have become a staple of the cafeteria, and desserts are making a comeback. An additional serving of vegetables, the element in which American diets are most glaringly deficient, would usually fill the calorie gap, but it is beyond the financial reach of most schools."

Jamie Flunks Out

Turns out that even with an unlimited budget, Jamie was unable to design a menu that provided a minimum number of calories while not exceeding the fat limits. A nutritional analysis of the first three weeks of meals (15 lunches) at Central City Elementary conducted by the West Virginia Board of Education flunked him on both counts. A whopping 80 percent of his lunches exceeded either the total fat or saturated fat allowance, and most of the time both, and 40 percent of his lunches provided too few calories. Although to be fair this may unfortunately be the norm across the country. According to author Jill Richardson, only 6 to 7 percent of schools actually meet all the government's nutrition standards in their lunches.

On top of that, according to the survey conducted by Dr. Harris and Dr. Bradlyn, "77 percent of the students indicated they were 'very unhappy' with the new foods served at school." During the first two months, the lunch participation rate dropped from 75 percent to 66 percent among surveyed students, and milk drinking evaporated by 25 percent.

Dr. Bradlyn said at least in the short term, "the Food Revolution program did have an impact: it was not what you wanted to see. You wanted to see kids drinking milk and eating a nutritious meal." Dr. Harris added that as Cabell County "rolled the program out they have seen declines [in participation] in other schools. We don't know if that's a short-term decline ... But one could say it's not a great thing."

 
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