Friday, June 23, 2000

Give me a break

Mamas, watch what your daughters drink. If they're sippin' the wrong beverages, they could be apt to cause themselves bodily harm. In fact, there's one devilish concoction popular with our young people today that quintuples the likelihood of breaking a bone. To drink it indicates such a lack of regard for one's personal health and safety that parents would do right to be concerned.

It's likely, though, that Mom and Dad are drinking the stuff themselves. And it's not alcohol that puts young bones in such danger. No high-octane cocktail or drug-spiked brew. This viper in our midst is found in refrigerators across the land, in vending machines and mini-marts and fast-food palaces and picnic coolers.

That's right, the culprit is cola.

According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, girls who drink the demon cola are practically begging for a bone fracture. Researchers surveyed active freshman and sophomore girls at a Boston high school and found that, while only five of 57 girls who just said no to Coke and Pepsi suffered fractures, a whopping 38 out of 107 cola-chuggers experienced that injury. Simply sipping soda of any sort made a break three times more likely, but the nectar of the cola nut raised that to five. And yet this hazardous substance is sold in high school cafeterias throughout the land! Alert the media! Let loose the politicians!

What is it about cola that makes bones so brittle? The problem may not be what's in the can, but what's not: calcium. The theory runs that girls who are drinking soda aren't drinking milk, and milk, as we all know, builds strong bodies 12 ways. No, wait, that's Wonder Bread. Milk makes strong bones, anyway, but you're not likely to find a high school girl who'll be caught dead drinking it. Cow juice is kid stuff, and if they weren't drinking cola they'd probably be drinking coffee, or sports drinks, or designer water, or beer.

There's also speculation that the phosphorus found in cola actually weakens bones, but let's not let that get out, because while no amount of ads of milk-mustached celebrities is likely to make moo juice cool, imbibing harmful chemicals most certainly is cool, and kids will start quaffing more cola just for the kick of turning their bones to Jello. Besides, the lack of calcium caused by deficient milk-drinking seems to be the strongest factor in weakening bones. "Osteoporosis is a pediatric disease," says Dr. Neville H. Golden, director of the Eating Disorders Center in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y. Which means that those healthy young active girls will soon be racing us old, stooped women for those bottles of calcium supplements. Unless we stack a few cans of soda nearby as a decoy.

Not surprisingly, the cola industry is taking a defensive stance on all of this. A spokesman for the National Soft Drink Association was quoted as saying, and I'll paraphrase here, "Aw, go squeeze a cow." But I think they're missing the boat. Why not just fortify all those yummy carbonated colas with calcium? It's a whole new market niche. It shouldn't be hard--calcium is turning up in all sorts of products these days where it has no business being. Why not pop? Just think of the ad campaign possibilities--beautiful young celebrities lounging about with their cans of soda, talking about how calcium-spiked cola is responsible for their rock-solid bone structure.

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