When I picked my kids up from school yesterday, I asked them the same questions I always do: whadya learn, did you play nicely, whadya you eat for lunch. I used to pack their lunches, but they decided they wanted to¬† eat a hot meal from the school cafeteria just like their friends do. I initially sniffed at the idea, but after learning more about California’s school lunch guidelines, I acquiesced.

I discovered that for my son, one of the perks of eating from the cafeteria is that he gets a choice of regular (“white”) or chocolate milk. Guess which one my son chooses. That ruffles my feathers because I know of the problems associated with liquid calories, but I recognize that while I cannot control what he has at school, I’m still the nutritional overlord at home and don’t budge on healthy eating principles there.

Yesterday, my son announced that he had “white” milk for lunch. My daughter explained: there was no chocolate milk available, only “white” milk, so most kids didn’t drink milk today.

Why is this an important point? Because there’s been a push by the dairy industry to slow the decline in milk consumption by fighting to keep chocolate milk in schools, arguing that when chocolate milk is removed, kids choose less nutritious drinks. The National Dairy council contends that kids don’t drink enough milk as it is, although one wonders how much milk consumption would be deemed “enough” by the organization that has a vested interest in selling as much dairy as possible.

Regardless, my daughter verified that without chocolate milk, kids didn’t drink much of the other stuff. There were no other drink options available besides water, which did not strike me as a negative, but the situation may be different in other school districts.

The behaviorist in me recognizes a bigger problem, however. Children aren’t drinking chocolate milk because they feel the need to get more milk in their diet. They’re drinking it because it’s sweet. By loading milk with sugar in order to coax kids to consume it, we’re basically shaping an addiction to sugar. The more that chocolate milk is presented, the more that kids will demand it in and out of school. That’s not limited to chocolate milk, it encompasses all the other foods they’re consuming. The more sugar that’s in food, the greater the expectation of sugar is, and the greater the resulting demand for a higher level of sweetness. This isn’t rocket science, this is basic learning.

Think I’m picking on the poor kids by wanting to take away their sweetened chocolate milk? Think it doesn’t matter, ‘cuz they’re just kids? Guess what? Those children will grow into adults who will spend lots of money searching for ways to drop the extra weight they packed on because of their sugar addictions. And the majority of them will not succeed.

Yes, it matters.