Senator Nick Xenophon has suggested a return to the not always fondly remembered national school milk program, citing nutritional concerns as well as support for the dairy industry.
The national program was introduced in 1950, though some states were already providing milk to school children. It was wound up in the 1970s after the Whitlam government reviewed its expenditure and a report found the program’s nutritional benefits did not justify its existence.
Former pharmacist of the year Karalyn Huxhagen said it might be more profitable to run any such program through the tuck shop system, considering significant gains made over recent years in their nutritional offer.
From a health perspective, the program may not have had the intended effect, instead fostering a dislike of dairy products, Huxhagen told the AJP.
“My memory of the program is that the milk arrived in the morning and by the time we got it at little lunch, it was warm,” she says.
“I was living in the tropics and the milk would sit out in the sun in crates. I think it probably put most kids off milk for life.
“I did Grade Three in a rural school with only two classrooms, and so that year our school milk arrived spasmodically. It didn’t come all the time due to floods, fires, anything else that stopped trucks coming near us.”
She suggested that a program to boost calcium intake could work better if presented as part of the curriculum through physical education, “to raise awareness of what lack of calcium will do to them in later ages”.
Schools have already done a great deal to improve nutrition and educate children about a healthy diet, she says.
“Tuck shops now look nothing like they did when I went to school – you could get a pie, a mince roll and a bag of lollies and it’s due to the work of people like Robert de Castella and his SmartStart program that this has changed, and kids are now being taught more about nutrition.”
She says that Australia no longer has the problem with bone health that it used to in the 70s and earlier.
“We certainly don’t have the rickets problem we did. I finished high school in ’78, and you could still see rickets in Aboriginal kids then, but you virtually never see it at all now.
“So don’t bring back those little bottles of milk sitting out in the quadrangle, getting warm while waiting for us all to come down.”
Another former pharmacist of the year, Nick Logan, says he remembered enjoying school milk in the 70s, particularly when it came flavoured.
He told the AJP that with the advent of popular diets, such as paleo, an undeserved distrust has grown up around dairy foods.
“Milk has become really uncool and people are treating it as the enemy, which is really wrong,” he says.
“It’s actually useful to drink full cream milk when you’re trying to lose weight as it suppresses your appetite. It’s only 4% fat anyway.
“Dairy is a really good package of vitamins A and D in particular, calcium and some magnesium, and it doesn’t hurt kids at all to drink full cream milk when they’re at a time in their lives when they need some healthy calories.”