For sale: Junk food at school

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Laws that limit schools sales of junk foods as snacks and in vending machines were reviewed to determine if there was a relationship between stricter laws and decreased rates of weight gained by students. The study results showed that the children in schools with stricter regulations gained less weight over the three years. (AP Photo)

When it comes to the obesity crisis in this country, it seems like every month there is a new plan of action to combat a different source of concern. Recently the targets have been changing what is available in school lunches, and then limiting the size of soft drinks sold. Last week, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new information about another school related concern: The snack table.

Laws that limit schools sales of junk foods as snacks and in vending machines were reviewed to determine if there was a relationship between stricter laws and decreased rates of weight gained by students. The study results showed that the children in schools with stricter regulations gained less weight over the three years. On average, children with the most limitations gained 2.2 pounds less than students in schools with more lenient rules.  In addition, the children’s Body Mass Index (BMI) trend, or weight for height ratio trend, was improved within that same group.

More importantly, the study found that the longer the regulations were in place (i.e. from grade school to high school), the better kids’ overall weight and BMI trends were.  This brings up the important point that healthier habits that start early and are reinforced throughout adolescence are more likely to provide a benefit than severe changes as a reaction to weight gain.

No one can blame one person, one institution, or find one reason that our children’s waistlines are growing faster than we can handle. It is a myriad of complex societal factors and influences that can’t be changed all at once. What this study shows us is that improving the food environment in schools and at home can only help. 

What should you do as a parent? 

At school:  Ask your child what options they have for snacks at school.  If the answers don’t include some healthy options, you may need to discuss the importance for change with school officials

 

  • Encourage your child’s school to adopt healthier practices beginning in elementary schools and all the way through middle and high school.

 

At home:  Make certain that you are creating an environment where healthy eating is easy for kids. Put the best options at eye level, and keep the higher-fat, higher-sugar, higher-calorie treats out of sight and out of mind

 

  • Include children in decisions about healthy snacks before heading to the grocery store. That way you won’t waste money on healthy foods they’re not going to eat.  

 

Beth Wallace, a registered dietitian at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has more than six years of experience in providing nutrition care for children and adolescents.

Is junk food for sale as snacks or in vending machines at your child’s school? Do you think it should be - or that schools should limit or ban it?

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