Childhood obesity is rapidly reaching epidemic levels in the US, having tripled since the 1980’s so that now over a third of children are considered obese. Recently children have begun to develop for the first time cases of type II diabetes, which is especially pernicious because when developed at such an early age it dramatically changes the child’s life for ever, remaining untreatable and incredibly dangerous to their health. To mitigate these dangerous developments, new studies have been performed as a means of reversing these trends is sought, and one such study was just released showing that the effect of state laws on the availability of ‘competitive foods’ in schools has a direct effect on how much weight children put on over the course of the year.
Competitive foods are almost not regulated at all by federal regulations, and are what you find in vending machines throughout the hallways and corridors of schools. Sodas, snacks, candy, and all other such items that are high in sugar, fat, salt, and calories but low in nutritious quality are readily available to children and are usually very inexpensive. While schools are prohibited from selling gum, soda, and candies in the actual school cafeteria, there is now federal law prohibiting the sales of competitive foods throughout the rest of the school—which over half of them do, because these vending machines generate a large source of funds for the schools, coming in last year at about 2 billion dollars.
For years health experts have urged schools to ban the sales of competitive foods, and a few states have adopted regulations doing so, or at least limiting the amount of sugar and calories contained within each snack. Yet no definite evidence was available to show a direct correlation between competitive foods and weight gain, until now.
A new study released last week in the journal Pediatrics titled, “Student Access to Competive Foods in Elementary Schools: Trends over Time and Regional Differences” tracked weight gains and losses for 6,300 students in 40 states between the years of 2004 and 2007, following them from fifth to eight grade. They used their results to figure out to establish which states had the greatest weight increases, and then sought a correlation between the states with the highest gains and their competitive food laws.
Further, they defined the regulatory laws as either ‘strong’ if they required schools to sell food that adhered to specific nutrition standards, or ‘weak’ if they merely recommended but did not legally require the school to actually act. The study results showed that children that attended schools in ‘strong’ states gained on average 2.25 fewer pounds for a 5” tall child who weighed 100lbs in 2003 than students who attended schools in weak states.
The conclusion is clear: students whose diet is controlled by strong laws gained less weight, and were less likely to remain overweight compared to students with no regulations.