A report released last month revealed that women who have a daily consumption of one or more drinks larded with sugar or corn syrup are 83 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than women who consume such drinks rarely ["A Regular Soda a Day Boosts Weight Gain; Non-Diet Drinks Also Increase Risk of Diabetes, Study Shows," front page, Aug. 25]. Top public health officials, such as Walter C. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, now advise parents not to keep these beverages in their homes. So why are we promoting soda consumption in Maryland schools?
Last year legislation to eliminate the in-school sale of sodas and other unhealthful foods failed in the state Senate by four votes. I introduced that legislation and was, of course, disappointed when it failed, but I was more disappointed by the opposition to the bill.
I expected the soda industry to oppose the legislation. What I didn't expect was opposition from a group of professionals we trust to watch over our children's welfare -- high school principals.
These principals have grown addicted to the dollars that soda machines generate. A high school can have as many as four dozen soda machines, which can generate a hefty piece of change.
Their share of the income from these soda machines, the principals say, allows their schools to buy band uniforms and computers.
That argument carries some truth, but less so today as more state funding for Maryland's schools, via the Thornton reforms, is kicking in. More to the point, with report after report documenting rising levels of child obesity, why are we creating a school environment that encourages the consumption of still more empty calories?
The fault doesn't lie only with the principals. Our state superintendent of schools, our state Board of Education and most of our local school boards have either opposed cracking down on school soda consumption or have sat out the debate.
This refusal to take our children's health seriously has created the ultimate in edu- cational ironies. On the one hand, Mary- land students are obligated to take a half-credit health class -- and learn about healthful diet habits -- to graduate. On the other, they are encouraged to drop their money in soda machines.
The legislation that failed last year would have prohibited the sale of soda during school hours but allowed the sale of healthful drinks and foods. Schools still would have been allowed to sell soda after school. That seemed to be a reasonable compromise.
Some school systems have begun responding responsibly to the growing epidemic of child obesity. Last year, for instance, Montgomery County restricted soda sales in its schools.
Sadly, though, the systems that have done the least to rein in soda machines -- Baltimore City and Prince George's County -- also have the largest populations of poor and minority youngsters, and health studies have found that childhood obesity problems are more prevalent in minority communities. Both the Baltimore City and Prince George's school systems face funding difficulties, even with Thornton funding, but allowing the sale of unhealthy drinks and foods only exacerbates their students' health problems.
Maryland's schools do need more money. But we cannot and must not let the lure of easy money continue to jeopardize our children's health.
-- Paul G. Pinsky
a Democrat, represents Prince
George's County in the Maryland Senate.