Let them drink milk

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Although many are familiar with school milk cartons, students with lactose intolerance are placed at a serious disadvantage. (Los Angeles Times/MCT 2011)

Staff Writer
According to the Orange County Register, Irvine was ranked the ninth-best city among the 150 largest cities in the U.S. to raise a family in 2017. The U.S News & World Report gave University High School a gold ranking in how well it teaches its students. By seemingly any standard, UHS treats its students extremely well and effectively prepares them for the outside world, but there is one point in which it has regularly failed its students.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reports that only a quarter of the United States’ population suffers from the condition known as lactose intolerance. This rate, however, looks at the U.S. population as a whole. A 2005 Cornell University study reported that minority populations were at a higher risk for lactose intolerance than populations descended from northern Europeans. Asian Americans in particular are at an excessively high risk, with an estimated ninety percent of the population suffering from the condition. This should be especially concerning in a school where East Asians make up the largest percentage of the student body, fifty-one percent.
This might seem like a relatively small issue at first glance, but the fact remains that this is an issue that likely impacts a significant portion of the school, and in fact, the simple nature of the problem makes it more concerning that the school has not yet addressed the problem.
This issue isn’t just about milk, but all dairy products. The fact is that there is a large population of students at University High School who cannot eat a section of the food pyramid without feeling physically ill enough to need to visit the emergency room. And the fact is that the medication that lets such students eat lactose products, lactase, is available for 10 cents a pill.
It might seem easy to argue that this is not a matter that the school should be involved in, that students should be responsible for their own health. Yet we already expect schools to, at least in some ways, act as the parents of its students during school hours. Schools are expected to provide discipline, education, and guidance to its students. They are also expected to provide meals and, especially after the National School Lunch Act, those meals are expected to actually carry nutritional content. Schools are also expected to make sure that students can eat those meals, which is why students are given plates, spoons, and forks instead of having food shoved into their open hands. Why shouldn’t lactase, which allows many students to eat an entire class of foods, be considered in the same category?
In the end, the central question is how much responsibility the school chooses to take over its students. If the school is determined to commit to the commendable goal of making sure all of its students get access to a healthy daily diet on school ground during school hours, then it needs to make sure that its students are able to eat the food that they are provided.