Here is some information that’s worth thinking about. A long-term study took a look at the difference in obesity rates in kids from states that strictly curbed school sales of junk food and sweetened drinks and those that didn’t. The study found small differences that are worth paying attention to.
Children in the study gained less weight from fifth through eighth grades if they lived in states with strong, consistent laws versus no laws governing snacks available in schools. For example, kids who were 5 feet tall and 100 pounds gained on average 2.2 fewer pounds if they lived in states with strong laws in the three years studied.
Also, children who were overweight or obese in fifth grade were more likely to reach a healthy weight by eighth grade if they lived in states with the strongest laws.
Over 6,000 students were studied from 2004 through 2007, most of them entering middle school at the beginning of the study. In the states where laws were strict, by the time the students reached eighth grade, 18 percent of those that were obese when the study started were no longer obese. In the states without strict laws, there was no measurable difference.
Of course, the foods that students get in schools is just one of the many things that influence their weight and health, and just because junk food is offered in school doesn’t mean that students have to buy it. The types of junk food that are limited by laws are usually extras that aren’t included with the basic school lunch. Students have to pay extra for them. In junior high, it's more difficult for parents to police what money their children take with them to school, but parents can choose to not give extra money for junk food or choose to send their child with lunch from home. There is some control that parents have even in school districts where junk food is easily available.
I’m all for schools limiting the junk food, and I don’t have a problem with a state creating laws against their sales in the lunch room. I know people will cry “nanny state,” but parents are welcome to send a packed lunch with chips, sodas and candy. The schools don’t need to sell them. The information in this study shows that limiting the junk food can make a difference. It’s encouraging.
When school resumes and the district nutrition council that I’m on for my school system begins to meet again, I’m going to bring up this study. School districts don’t need to wait for the state to pass laws. They can create their own standards with their students’ best interest at the heart of them.