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Milk in Cafeterias: An Issue of Health and Opportunities For Moving Away From Dairy

By: Julian Hartland

Most high school students have seen Trumoo or Guida’s milk in cafeterias since their elementary school days. As growing individuals, students have been told that drinking milk is a calcium source and essential for our diets as opposed to water. Due to inaccurate dairy milk marketing and the industry being profit-driven, high schools across the nation require dairy milk in our lunch lines.



    Dairy milk has been connected to school lunch programs since World War II, when soldiers were provided milk as a part of their ration. When farmers couldn’t make enough of it, the government decided to subsidize the industry by setting milk standards in schools as a method to supply more milk to soldiers. This essentially means that milk in schools was for the benefit of the farmer industry rather than the health of children. With milk gaining popularity as a healthy drink as children were encouraged to drink up to four glasses a day, the dairy industry grew as well. In fact, “Between 1995 and 2009, the dairy industry received nearly $5 billion in government subsidies.” Segueing to schools, USDA guidelines read that “...schools must offer fat-free and/or low-fat (1%) unflavored milk as part of school breakfasts and lunches,” which essentially keeps milk options in schools and encourages its consumption. To keep the dairy industry growing, Congress increased the demand for dairy milk in the 1980s.By forming an industry-funded federal “Dairy Checkoff” program, known today as the “Dairy Research and Promotion Program”.


However, the presence of dairy in schools begs the question: Why does the dairy industry still sell dairy products in schools? For the most part, subsidization and marketing techniques such as MyPlate ensure dairy’s spot in the healthy beverage category.










Although dairy milk presents itself as an essential in students’ lunches, a “...majority of humans in general, and even Americans (60 percent or more), are lactose-intolerant.” In addition to milk being sold for free in lunch lines, as opposed to water and a lack of alternatives, dairy milk producers profit from placing student welfare at risk. Lactose intolerance is primarily found in POC populations. For example, ¾ of the black population is lactose intolerant, showcasing a major disparity in public health issues. Not only does the dairy industry ignore lactose intolerance cases that disproportionately impact predominantly POC schools, but it also falsely markets dairy milk benefits. For example, a Harvard study of 20,885 men published in 2001 showed that men having 2 1/2 servings of dairy products daily had a 34% increased risk of prostate cancer compared with men consuming little or no dairy products. While this doesn’t entail that dairy products cause prostate cancer, it showcases that dairy products are not as healthy as claimed in marketing.

Despite dairy’s place in the cafeteria as the main beverage, which may not change for some time, individuals are beginning to make switches to plant-based milk products. Benefits include: lactose-free and being an allergy-friendly option. In turn, subsidizing plant-based milk products such as oat and soy milk within schools could significantly decrease health risks and address public health disparities. “According to research by Barclays, Generation Z is consuming 550% more dairy-free milk beverages in comparison to prior generations”, meaning that we could potentially see a culture shift away from dairy products in the future and maybe out of our cafeterias.



(1.) OneGreenPlanet

(2.) Salon

(3.) Vox 

(4.) U.S. Department of Agriculture

(5.) National Library of Medicine

(6.) Milk Pro Con

(7.) The Farm Buzz

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