Another dilemma facing parents is whether to allow their kids to drink chocolate milk. Many school districts are eliminating chocolate milk from cafeterias on the grounds that it has too much sugar and calories. But another segment of the population, runners and endurance athletes, can't seem to get enough. NPR's Allison Aubrey checks in with both camps.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When Dan DiFonzo ran past the 26-mile mark at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York earlier this month, and he caught a glimpse of the finish line, he expected the tables of water and Gatorade, but what was handed to him?

DAN DIFONZO: As soon as I crossed the finish line, I received my finisher's medal, which I was happy to see, but the very next person handed me a plastic jug of chocolate milk. It was delicious.

AUBREY: DiFonzo says he's always been a fan. As a kid he loved chocolate milk, but he says only recently have runners turned to chocolate milk as a recovery drink.

DIFONZO: I just think in years past you would've been a little bit strange if you were to drink chocolate milk immediately after a run, but nowadays it's absolutely mainstream. And I think everybody's just looking to find out, you know, what's that one beverage I can take that makes me feel better the next day so I can run again and chocolate milk's been doing that for me, so I stick with it.

AUBREY: A spate of new research studies seems to be fueling the trend. One study found that the protein in milk speeds up the time it takes to take muscles to recover from intense exercise. And another study, perhaps of interest to lots of us who aren't in the habit of running 26 miles, finds that chocolate may play a role in helping people manage their weight. Researcher Josh Lambert of Penn State says it's complicated, but he's studying the unusual way that chocolate interacts with a specific digestive enzyme to block the absorption of fat.

JOSH LAMBERT: These compounds in cocoa, these polyphenolic compounds in cocoa inhibit the activity of that enzyme, so they block it from breaking down fat.

AUBREY: Basically helping the body fend off fat, but don't get too excited, it'll take more research to see how big this effect is. So here's the rub: whatever boost the good compounds in chocolate may give us, the bum rap that chocolate milk is getting in schools is due to all the extra sugar and added calories.


ANN COOPER: In my world chocolate milk is soda in drag. Most of it has as much sugar as actually Pepsi or Coke, and it doesn't belong in schools.

AUBREY: That's Ann Cooper, who directs food services at the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. She's made a national reputation for herself as the Renegade Lunch Lady, tapping into the national angst over how kids eat, and in her mind tossing out chocolate milk is one easy step to address the very complicated obesity problem. Other schools are taking action too - from L.A. to Minneapolis and D.C. - there's a national re-think over chocolate milk. And even famous TV foodies are taking up the cause.


JIMMY KIMMEL: Please welcome chef Jamie Oliver.


AUBREY: Chocolate milk was the focus of his appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show.


JAMIE OLIVER: So what I'm saying is that the parents of L.A. and America need to start giving a (bleep) about what we feed kids.

KIMMEL: That's right. Yeah.


AUBREY: So it's a really good idea, right? You ban chocolate milk and schools are doing something to make kids healthier. But it's not so simple. At least that's what Penny McConnell of the Fairfax County, Virginia schools says she learned.

PENNY MCCONNELL: When we eliminated we had as many parents who were upset with us that we did it as the ones who were pleased with it.

AUBREY: Some were worried that their kids weren't getting enough calcium.

CLAIRE FEIDLER: I've tried regular, I don't really like it so...

AUBREY: Claire Feidler says some kids won't drink milk if it's not chocolate. And her schoolmate Zachery Dondershine agrees.

ZACHERY DONDERSHINE: I just think it tastes better. More people like chocolate more and it has more sugar in it.

AUBREY: So McConnell had an idea: Why not keep the chocolate and replace the sugar? She worked with her dairy suppliers to eliminate high fructose corn syrup. Her reformulated skim chocolate milk does have sugar it, but it only has 30 extra calories compared a half-pint of regular 1 percent milk. Mom, Diane Dondershine says that works for her.

DIANE DONDERSHINE: I'm fine with that. As long as they're getting calcium.

AUBREY: McConnell says what she has learned is that banning a food may not be as helpful as the much more complicated task of teaching kids to look at their whole plates and make good choices. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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