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Chocolate milk a catalyst for debate on Senate floor about kids meals

640px-Girls_at_Baldock_County_Council_School_in_Hertfordshire_enjoy_a_drink_of_milk_during_a_break_in_the_school_day_in_1944._D20552.jpg
Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer
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Girls at Baldock County Council School in Hertfordshire enjoy a drink of milk during a break in the school day in 1944.

Maryland restaurants would have to offer healthful drinks with kids meals or face fines under a bill nearing passage in the Senate. But a heated debate Wednesday exposed a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes a beverage “unhealthy.”

Fruit, vegetable juices, and milk are one thing. But, what about chocolate milk, some Senators wondered.

If the concern is sugar, Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire said the logic doesn’t add up.

“Regular chocolate milk has 21 grams of sugar. And then I think it also allows you to have 100% natural apple juice. Do you know how many grams of sugar that has? How much does an eight-ounce Coke have? Between 22 and 26 grams, and that's basically what the chocolate milk and the apple juice have,” Simonaire said.

Sen. Pamela Beidle, the Anne Arundel County Democrat sponsoring the bill, said she wants to support efforts to improve child health outcomes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report poor nutrition during childhood has been connected to heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and dental issues

Lawmakers debated the nutritional merits of different beverages until Howard County Democrat Clarence Lam, a physician, offered some clarity. Sugar, he explained, is far from the only problem with soft drinks.

“There's been a lot of attention being given to the sugar that's in some of these drinks. But, there are other things in soft drinks that raise concerns as well,” he said “Data from the Academy of General Dentistry shows that the erosive potential of sodas is ten times that of fruit juices in just the first three minutes of drinking,” Lam said.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill. It is not clear when it will come up for a final vote before heading to the House of Delegates.