Junk food laws in schools may curb child obesity

Published: Monday, Aug. 13 2012 4:05 p.m. MDT

Students who lived in states that restricted the sale of junk food at school gained less weight over three years than those living in states that allowed unhealthy snacks, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The authors of the study analyzed 6,300 students in 40 states, measuring their heights and weights in 2004 and later in 2007. Findings indicated that children who were overweight in fifth grade were less likely to be obese by eighth grade, if they lived in states with restrictive laws.

"This is the first real evidence that the laws are likely to have an impact," Virginia Stallings, director of the nutrition center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Associated Press.

These laws set specific nutrition requirements, putting limits on fats, sugar and salt content, the U.S. News reported. These laws typically govern food in snack bars, vending machines and other venues beyond regular school meal programs.

"(The laws) are not a slam-dunk, and even obesity experts who praised the study acknowledge the measures are a political hot potato, smacking of a 'nanny state' and opposed by industry and cash-strapped schools relying on food processors' money," ABC News observed.

But if the laws have even a minor effect, ABC News reported, "What are the downsides of improving the food environment for children today?" Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, asked. "You can't get much worse than it already is."

Nearly one-fifth of U.S. teenagers were obese between 2009 and 2010, according to Los Angeles Times. "Experts argue that educating young people about maintaining a healthy weight will not work without attendant changes to the food available to them."

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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