A study released Monday indicates that while the improvements aren't extraordinary, students in schools in which the sale of junk food and sugar-laced drinks have been curtailed are seeing a slower rate of childhood obesity.
According to an Associated Press report on the study, researchers found that children in states that had strong laws governing snacks that were available in schools gained less weight from the fifth grade through the eighth grade than students in states that had no snack laws. Students who were overweight or obese in the fifth grade also had a better chance of achieving a healthy weight by the eighth grade if they lived in states that had the strongest laws regarding the types of snacks sold in schools.
What determined whether a state had a strong law? For the study, a strong law had detailed nutritional requirements for food and drinks sold on campus other than at meals. Vague laws and laws that merely encouraged the sale of healthy food without guidelines were considered weak.
Nationally, according to the AP report, about one out of every five children in elementary school is obese. The study found that in states that had no school snack laws, 37 percent of fifth-graders were overweight and 21 percent were obese. Those numbers stayed about the same when those children reached the eighth grade.
When a state had strong laws that were enforced consistently in elementary and middle grades, the researchers found, the percentage of students who were overweight in the fifth grade -- 39 percent -- dropped five points to 34 percent by the time they were eighth-graders. The 21 percent of fifth-graders in those states who were obese trimmed down to 18 percent by the eighth grade.
We believe information is the key for adults making decisions about what -- and how much of it -- they consume. Rather than banning large portion sizes, making information readily and conspicuously available in regard to how many calories and how much fat, trans fat, sugar, sodium and carbohydrates food items and drinks pack gives adults the facts they need to make informed decisions.
But children -- particularly those in elementary school -- are still developing. A calorie chart isn't going to dissuade a 12-year-old kid who really wants a double-scoop ice cream cone from getting that double-scoop ice cream cone. One of the things children have to learn is how to make decisions. They can't be expected to make them on an adult level, which is why they need adult guidance, both at home and at school.
Restricting their choices of food and drinks at school and ensuring that they don't have easy access to empty calories are things parents should want schools to do. Even if the health benefits are small, there's no downside to any downsizing that results from instilling better eating habits in our kids.