It’s easy to reflexively argue in favor of replacing soft drinks from school vending machines with “healthier” alternatives (Bangor Daily News editorial, Dec. 3). But this knee-jerk position tends to ignore several important facts. The supposed link between soda and obesity is snowballing into the stuff of urban legend: short on facts, big on hype.

As beverages go, soda pop actually has fewer calories than most fruit juices. A 12-ounce can of cola typically contains 120 calories. Orange and apple juices have 135; cranberry and pineapple juices have 150. And the same size serving of grape juice, an elementary-school lunchroom staple, contains a whopping 165 calories.

Recent science has demonstrated three very useful things. First, today’s kids are skipping exercise at 13 times the rate that they’re upping their food intake (University of North Carolina, April 2003). Second, soft drinks don’t affect weight any more or less than milk, fruit juices, or energy drinks (Virginia Tech, July 2003). And third, overall soft drink consumption among teenage girls has actually declined in the last 10 years (Michigan State University, February 2002).

Maintaining a healthy weight follows a simple formula: calories-in should equal calories-out. If we’re really trying to fairly assess the blame for childhood obesity, the hard evidence suggests that soft drinks are an undeserving scapegoat. My vote? Less videogames and television. More leaf-raking and snow-shoveling.