After stopping to get gasoline, I told my 14-year-old son that he could go inside and pick out something to drink. It was a Texaco station with a convenience store. Sure enough, he selected a non-carbonated sports drink, as he usually does in those circumstances.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the label. While the sports drink would quench a thirst on a hot summer's day - even better, in fact, than a carbonated soft drink would - I was amazed at how little the drink offered in terms of nutritive value.

Teenagers don't always make the best choices. After all, wouldn't it make sense for teenage girls to cut back on soft drinks if they are so weight-conscious? The average teenage girl in this country drinks two cans of soda pop each day. And, what about the teenagers who are involved in sports - both male and female? Wouldn't it make sense for them to focus more on milk, and less on soft drinks, to enhance athletic performance and promote healthy bones (and, conversely, to cut the risk of bone fractures)?

Finally, some things do make sense! A new study by National Family Opinion Research shows that milk drinking among teenagers has increased for the first time in six years. Per capita milk consumption among teens in 2001 reached 22 gallons, a 3 percent increase from 2000.

But even more progress can be made:

  • Nearly nine out of 10 teenage girls and seven out of 10 teenage boys do not get the calcium they need - potentially setting the stage for the bone-crippling disease, osteoporosis.
  • The National Academy of Sciences recommends 1,300 milligrams of calcium daily for teens, the equivalent of four 8-ounce glasses of milk. But many teens only get about 800 mg.
  • The average teenager drinks 868 cans of soft drinks per year, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. For girls, it breaks down to about 2 cans per day; for boys, 2.5 cans per day.

Perhaps the key is to reach kids before they reach their teenage years. That way, you can instill in them some life-long habits that will last into their teenage and adult years.

Promotion groups like Dairy Management, Inc. now invest much of their money in reaching the 6-to-12-year-old age group. DMI promotions position milk as a fun, hip, "cool" beverage choice. And, efforts are under way to make milk more attractive and viable when served in schools.

The strategy seems to be working. The same National Family Opinion Research organization, which found an increase in milk consumption among teens, found similar trends in the 6-to-12-year-old age group. Milk consumption among kids reached 28 gallons per capita in 2001 - the highest level in 10 years.

Reaching the adolescent market with positive messages is key, along with providing the kids - both teenage and pre-teenage - with plenty of choices, including flavored milks packaged in creative single-serve containers.

Rest assured that your checkoff dollars aid in this effort.