California banned the sale of junk food and sugary sodas in schools five years ago. A new report says that California students consume fewer calories and less fat and sugar than students in other states. However, a recent study found that junk food in schools had no effect on student weight gain, suggesting that combating childhood obesity requires much more than solely banning junk food in schools.
California led the way
A decade ago California was the first state to address childhood obesity by banning the sale of soda pop in grade schools. A soft drink ban in high schools followed and since 2007 California has enforced nutrition standards limiting the fat, sugar and calories in foods in vending machines that compete with school meal programs.
Fewer calories available at school
Today the California school junk food ban appears to be working, according to the results of a study published in the “Archives of Pediatric Medicine.” Researchers used data on the eating habits of high school students collected by the Centers for Disease Control. They compared data on California students with data on students from 14 states without nutrition standards for snack foods.
An analysis of the data showed that California high school students consumed nearly 160 fewer calories per day than students in other states, the equivalent of a small bag of potato chips. The difference-maker was eating fewer calories at school. California students got about 21.5 percent of their calories at school, compared with 28.4 percent in other states.
What’s the big deal?
Cutting out a bag of chips a day may not seem like a big deal, but the impact grows over time. Many nutrition experts have said that say that most children and adolescents could avoid an obese future by cutting 100 to 200 extra calories a day. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that if children cut just 64 fewer calories per day, by 2020 the U.S. childhood obesity rate would drop 10 percent lower than where it was in the mid-2000s.
Fewer calories, but less weight gain?
Although the study showed that California students have reduced calorie consumption, the effect of the junk food ban on their weight is not as clear. A study published earlier this year in “Sociology of Education” found that student weight gain has nothing to do with junk food at school.
Researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample of students from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of eighth grade (1998-1999 through 2006-2007).
The percentage of students attending schools selling junk food rose significantly between fifth and eighth grades. Yet percentage of students who were overweight or obese didn’t rise at all. Despite increasing availability of junk food from fifth grade to eighth grade, students who were overweight or obese actually fell from 39.1 percent to 35.4 percent.
School ban not enough
Authors of the Sociology of Education study said that efforts to reduce childhood obesity must concentrate more on the home environment, as well as the food choices available in society as a whole. The California study, which found that students get just 21.5 percent of their calories at school, supports that argument.
Even though junk food may not be available in school, once the bell rings the floodgates are open.