Milk Awareness Day (Part 2)

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Student enjoying white milk
What happens when you bring in three pediatricians in white lab coats, 391 cartons of free white milk, and a group of enthusiastic parents with milk mustaches to an elementary school?

On March 7th, 2012, the Lowell Elementary School in Watertown, MA devoted an entire a day to promote the health benefits of white milk. With the support of the school administration and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (the local pediatrician office), the goal of Milk Awareness Day was to help kids make healthy choices, starting with choosing low-fat, white milk over flavored milk. A seemingly impossible task when almost 80% of the kids buy flavored milk over white milk at lunch everyday.

It was going to take a lot of planning, coordination and creativity. Here’s what happened:

“Let’s Talk Milk” School Assembly

Milk Day School Assembly
Milk Day began with an assembly in the school’s library. Students from grades PreK-5 gathered to hear three pediatricians from Harvard Vanguard talk about the benefits of choosing pure white milk instead of flavored milk. The kids were attentive as the doctors gave a presentation on the importance of calcium and other essential nutrients and vitamins found in milk. Then came the bait.

“Raise your hand if you drink chocolate milk at lunch” asked Dr. Dan Slater. A sea of hands flew up in the air.

Drs. Slater, Mitchell and Stepanian went on to explain the effects of sugar and why consuming too much sugar is bad for kids’ health. But how much sugar is in a carton of flavored milk? To demonstrate, they played a video clip of sugar being poured into a school bus from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Students and staff gasped as the bus began to bust at the seams with sugar.  

To further demonstrate sugar consumption, the pediatricians had the students guess how many cups of sugar are consumed at the Lowell school in one day. One by one, students came up to pour one cup of sand (representing sugar from flavored milk) into a clear storage container. The room grew increasingly agitated as over 18 kids gathered on the small stage.

“You guys drink 19 ½ cups of sugar more than you would if you drank regular white milk. That converts to 4 ½ added pounds of fat. And that’s not healthy.”

Kids are sometimes told too much sugar is not good for you, but it often doesn’t mean anything without the proper context. The Milk Day assembly was a great opportunity for the school doctors to explain this in a way kids could get and hopefully remember.

Harvard Vanguard doctors and students

Lunch
At the end of the assembly, the various grades began their lunch periods. Thanks to the generous support of Harvard Vanguard, children were offered free white milk with lunch. In addition, milk mustaches and white silicone bracelets with “MOO” imprinted on them were given to all the kids for choosing white milk. Nearly all the kids grabbed white milk over the flavored stuff. Only a handful of kids chose chocolate milk or water. Kids chose to show off their white mustaches and bracelets. It. Was. Awesome.

Pledge & Photo Opp
After kids finished their lunches, they were encouraged to sign a pledge to drink white milk and to have their pictures taken with milk mustaches. Lunch period is usually boisterous time, but more so on this particular day. Kids clambered to sign the pledge and showed off their milk mustaches. By the end of all the lunch periods, it was difficult to find space to scrawl a signature on the pledge. The goal was to make it a positive day. And based on the mood at every lunch period, there was no doubt we had achieved that goal.

And as a bonus, parent volunteers also collected the empty milk cartons to be used later for planting seedlings later this month as part of a wellness fair. How cool is that?

Principal Kaplan watching students sign pledge

Students could not wait to sign pledge to drink white milk
Milk Day was a hit with everyone

But wait, there’s more work to be done!

Months of planning and support paid off in spades. Except our efforts can’t be isolated to one day a year. School principal Elizabeth Kaplan has made it a priority to meet with parents to figure out ways to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and snacks at school. Even though Massachusetts has passed regulations that will eliminate flavored milk by 2013, the Lowell school is trying to get a jump-start. And by all accounts, is well on its the way.

Check back to read the final installment of my “Milk Chronicles” after our follow-up meeting with the school principal later this month. Wish us luck!

This post was originally published at jamieoliver.com on April 20, 2012. 

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