Skewed assumptions from an esteemed research outfit

Quite some time ago, researcher Brian Wansink invited me to periodically stop by the website operated his Food and Brand Lab at Cornell, and I keep forgetting. The upside of my failure is that there’s plenty to peruse, instead of just the one or two conclusions posted since my last visit.

I admire a great deal of Wansink’s research, but one that sticks out like a bum thumb is his conclusion that banning chocolate milk from school cafeterias has adverse affects: Less milk consumed, more waste. You can read the summary of the report here. 

Milk sales decreased 10 percent, which, the report points out, indicates that many students switched from chocolate to white. But, the report said, milk waste went up 29 percent, so they were taking it, but not consuming it.

Nutritionally, after the milk substitution, students on average consumed less sugar and fewer calories, but also consumed less protein and calcium. Additionally, the ban may have been a factor in a 7% decrease in District’s Lunch Program participation.

I challenge some of the assumptions: The first sentence implies an equivalence between less sugar and fewer calories and less protein and calcium. But with a third of American kids obese or overweight, we have strong reason to believe they’re ingesting too much sugar and too many calories. By contrast, is anyone worried about a protein or calcium deficit?

The second sentence suggests that not serving chocolate milk may have helped reduce participation in the school lunch program. Put aside the financial issue, in which most school districts expect food service to be self-sustaining, instead of recognizing the importance of nutrition not only in growing bodies but in educational effectiveness.

Hypothetically, let’s say the entire decrease is due to not selling chocolate milk. That means that sales have been artificially higher by 7 percent because of the sale of an unhealthy product, which makes the drop not a loss, but an overdue correction. It lets us see the real baseline, from which we can build sales on a platform of health, rather than junk.


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