Since we have been talking about healthier school lunches, I thought I would share with you an interesting article in last month’s Pediatrics which related to regulations on school snacks.
While the nutrition standards for school meals changed for the 2012-2013 school year, the new guidelines do not effect foods in vending machines, snack bars or other venues within the school that are not a part of the regular school meal programs. These foods (typically snacks and drinks) are termed “competitive foods” as they compete with school breakfasts and lunches.
This study looked at weight changes for 6,300 students between 2004-2007 and followed the students from fifth to eighth grade. They found that adolescents in states with strict laws regulating the sale of “competitive foods” gained less weight over this 3 year period than those living in states without laws.
As the childhood obesity epidemic continues (the CDC now estimates that 1/5 of American children are obese), public health officials continue to look at ways to improve a child’s eating habits during the school day. The laws surrounding snack foods at school differ by state. There are no laws in some states, weak laws (where recommendations were made but there were no specific guidelines), and strong laws (where detailed nutritional standards were issued).
The study did not conclude that strong laws were directly responsible for the differences in a student’s weight gain, but it did conclude that these outcomes tended to happen in states with strong laws. That would seem to make sense to me as most children including my own, if given the opportunity, would at times choose vending machine snacks over a healthy school lunch.
I also think that this is more common as the children become teens and seem to “snack” for lunch while multi-tasking rather than sitting down to eat a well balanced lunch. I continually hear this comment from adolescent patients of mine when I ask them about their lunch habits, and many of whom eat “off campus” if allowed, and choose fast foods over a healthy school cafeteria lunch. Off school lunches seem to be another issue as well.
One of the lead authors on the study stated, “competitive-food laws can have an effect on obesity rates if the laws are specific, required and consistent”. It seems like this might be a good cause to discuss with your own state representative.