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Study Finds Soymilk Is a Hit with Schoolchildren

boy eating school lunchSchoolchildren in Florida showed that they like to have choices when it comes to where they get their calcium. In a study published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, PCRM researchers found that when offered soymilk as a choice in the school lunch line, almost a quarter of the children chose the calcium-rich, nondairy beverage over dairy milk.

The study also found that offering soymilk sharply increases the average calcium consumption per gram of saturated fat consumed from calcium-rich beverages. The findings suggest that students’ health could benefit from the inclusion of soymilk in school lunch lines.

The majority of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans are lactose intolerant. Symptoms often begin in childhood and can be mistaken for illness, leading to unnecessary diagnostic tests and treatments. Drinking soymilk alleviates this problem.

Other people may choose to avoid dairy milk for ethical, nutritional, or religious reasons. Enriched soymilk has no lactose and little or no saturated fat, but it has as much calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D as dairy milk. Dairy milk is the single largest source of saturated fat—a leading contributor to cancer risk and coronary disease—in children's diets, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Yet the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) offers no reimbursable alternative to dairy milk without a note from a doctor or parent and will not change that practice until soymilk is deemed acceptable to children.

The study took place over four weeks at three ethnically diverse elementary schools in south Florida. Students were given a chance to sample chocolate and vanilla soymilk the day before those items would become staples in the lunch line. At intervals during the study, sales of all types of milk were counted and leftover cartons were collected and weighed.

By the end of four weeks, not only were students choosing soymilk more than 22 percent of the time, but the percentage of children choosing a calcium-rich beverage, either dairy milk or soymilk, had increased from 79 percent to 83 percent. Students who chose soymilk consumed an average of 58 percent of the carton, while students who chose dairy milk consumed 52.6 percent.

The researchers had defined an adequate level of acceptability as 10 percent of children purchasing lunch choosing soymilk after four weeks. Soymilk sales represent only 6 percent of all milk sales in southern Florida. Given that so many children selected soymilk even after the initial novelty of the product had worn off, the research team concluded that the NSLP should consider enriched soymilk to be a viable alternative to dairy milk in schools.


PCRM Online, April 2006

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