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Posted at 11:04 AM ET, 05/30/2010

School junk food ban works, study finds

By Valerie Strauss

Banning junk food from schools actually does have a beneficial effect on students, a new research study shows.

Schools that eliminated junk food from a la carte lines during school lunch hours have seen an 18 percent reduction in overweight or obese students, according to a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The researchers, Associate Professor of Marketing Patricia Kennedy and Associate Professor of Finance Mary McGarvey, examined nutrition policies as well as survey information from students, parents and administrators at eight Midwestern schools, and then considered a range of other factors to gauge the effect of schools’ food policies on students’ weight.

The study suggests expanding the Agriculture Department’s current ban on selling so-called Foods of Limited Nutritional Value during school meal times to include all junk food a la carte selections.

Inexplicably, the current department ban doesn’t cover items such as candy bars, soda, potato chips, cookies and other high-fat snack foods. I wrote a little while ago about the rather incomplete list of foods banned in school cafeterias by the department; you can see the actual list here.

The researchers recommend that marketers of foods and beverages to children and adolescents limit or eliminate their sales of junk foods in schools, as well: “Marketers have known for some time that building long-term relationships with their consumers is much more profitable than having a constant turnover of buyers,” the study says.

With more than 30 million children being served lunch and 9.7 million being served breakfast each school day, the new evidence adds to a growing argument for tightening school food policies.

The findings, which appears online in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, are from a three-year research project on child obesity that was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 30, 2010; 11:04 AM ET
Categories:  Health, Research  | Tags:  banning junk food, healthy school breakfasts, healthy school lunches, nutrition policies, research on junk food, school lunches, school nutrition policies, study on banning junk food, university of nebraska-lincoln  
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Comments

Whenever my wife (who had first supported Hillary) taunts me about still supporting Obama, I cite Michelle. Her leadership on nutrition will being doing a greater good for a greater number for a fraction of the cost of RttT and SIG "reforms." I then recount the good things that Obama supports in education such as preschool, community schools, and saving teachers jobs, but by then my wife's eyes are rolling ...

Posted by: johnt4853 | May 30, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Is an obese child on a hot day better off drinking unsweetened grape juice (200 calories) than drinking a diet soft drink (0 calories)? Of course, he is getting some nutrition with the grape juice, but he is not quenching his thirst very well because the natural sugars will just make him thirstier. And of course he would be better off drinking water, but have you tasted most of the water in schools lately? Apart from the temperature, the taste, and the fact that in older schools it may very well be coming through unsafe pipes, I have never thought drinking fountains were all that sanitary. And the communal water jug, passed around so each team member can take a swig, is not yet a thing of the past. A student recently could not understand why I wouldn't let him fish someone else's discarded water bottle from the trash and refill it for his own use. Until we can solve these problems, the kids are a lot better off buying a can of diet soda than fruit juice. (Incidentally, I've been told that where it's offered in vending machines, water is the best selling item--they'll pay for it rather than drink it free from the drinking fountains.)You might want to ban all caffeine drinks, though--at least during full moon!

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 30, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

@ sideswiththekids, the soda contains salt and other unhealthy ingredients. It's designed to make them want to drink another. As for the grape juice, don't just state the idea that it has additional nutrients and then discard it. That IS the point.

Posted by: bentoenail | May 30, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

But an overweight person has to watch calories--and fruit juice has calories. A person on a hot day, wanting lots of liquids, doesn't need fruit juice with its sugar and calories. If you are going to ban even diet soda (which incidentally is usually low in sodium), you are going to have to give students something to drink besides tepid, metallic-tasting water of questionable safety from a drinking fountain of dubious sanitation possibly connected to lead plumbing.

And anyway, what difference does it make whether they buy a package of party mix for a snack or are served party mix as part of their lunch, as happened recently at a school I was at? (The rest of the meal was a sandwich and canned corn.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 31, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Candy and soda pop are unhealthy. If parents want their kids to have these foods, let them buy them for the kids. Students shouldn't have to buy soda from machines at school. It is bad for them. It shouldn't be sold in public schools. Schools make money off the machines and that is why it has been allowed, but it is bad for the kids. No growing kid, overweight or otherwise needs to buy candy, chips or soda.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 31, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

What on earth does celestun100 have against soda? Diet sodas are really not much more than flavored, carbonated water (and a few aren't all that flavored). My original point was that kids have to drink something during the day, and a diet soda, with no calories and probably not much more sodium than is in tap water if you have a water softener, may in some cases be better for them than some of the alternatives. (Of course, there are students who drink next to nothing at school so they won't have to use the bathrooms, but that's another problem entirely.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 31, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I have a better idea. How about no more cafeteria service or "Free Lunches" for kids? Parents need to start packing their youngsters lunches again, not have the First Witch of the White House dictate to those who exercise good judgment and choose wisely, when it comes to "snacks!"

As far as snacks go, "Childhood Obesity" wasn't a problem 40 years ago. What happened?

1. Cutbacks in Phys. Ed. and afterschool activities, such as softball, kickball, basetball and so forth.

2. X-Box and computer games. Although we did have pinball and some video games, dimes and quarters were a lot harder to earn.

3. Walking to / from school, if one lived within 1/4 of a mile fromt he school.

4. Organized neighborhood sports. When was the last time you saw youngsters playing on a side street?

Would the "Office of the First Witch of the White House," please butt out on making decisions for my family, when it comes to our eating habits.

The next thing we'll here is the mandating of Kobi Beef for the people on food stamps.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | May 31, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Computer Expert:

Rants aside, do you feel something should be done for the kid whose parents don't pack him a lunch out of economic hardship (no, not all of them are blowing welfare checks on alcohol) or the neglectful parent who packs a "lunch" of chips, soda and a candy bar? I've got problems with plenty of school lunch mandate and policies, but that hardly seems worth doing away with the whole thing.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou94 | June 1, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness: You have some good points, but only some. I have seen parents driving their kids to school--and maybe they are justified (kid has a project, there is construction between home and school, etc.), but even in an old school with a very small parking lot, the parents can't drop the kid at the street and let him walk--they have to deliver him to the door.

But I have always felt that cutbacks in phys ed would help, not hurt the situation. I entered school as a nearsighted, uncoordinated kid who nevertheless liked to run and play games. For example, I always played softball with my brothers, and hiking in a nature reserve was a family pasttime. By high school I had health problems and also knew a pair of broken glasses would take a decent-sized chunk out of the family income (not to mention leaving me unable to see the board for the rest of the day). I learned to stay at the back of any game to avoid the scorn of my teammates and protect my glasses; the school never provided safety goggles, my parents never realized this, and those of us with glasses were ignorant of their existence. But this technique earned me the open scorn of the phys ed teacher, who openly accused the non-athletes of lacking ambition or school spirit for not trying harder. I once spent the afternoon in the clinic with a migraine and bad cramps--for which the doctor was treating my-- and very proud of myself for not calling my mother away from her new job to take me home. When I produced my excuse in the next phys ed class, the teacher told me sternly, "Anyone too sick to be in phys ed should have gone home and called the doctor. You wouldn't have cramps if you'd get some vigorous exercise when they start." (At that, I was lucky; a friend with a heart condition was dragged around the gym at a run until she nearly passed out by a disbelieving phys ed teacher.)

The only thing phys ed does for a non-athletic kid is make them self-conscious and convinced that exercise is not for them.

(And about not seeing kids playing in the streets--in my neighborhood they are, all right, but you still don't see them. Apparently their parents can't be bothered insisting that they wear light-colored clothes when skateboarding at dusk!)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 2, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

The sugar/calories/soda/fruit drink argument aside, soft drinks of all types contain phosphates. Phosphates leech calcium from a person's bones. Young people who start drinking a soft drink or two or three every day, as many do place themselves at serious risk of developing osteoporosis. This is particularly dangerous for girls/women who are more at risk for developing the disease.

School administrators are also responsible for seeing that physical education curriculum and practices meet national standards and are age appropriate. Physical education is the most changed/improved curriculum in education in many places, but parents, school officials and legislators bear responsibility for seeing that the "Old PE" is tossed on the waste heap and that the "New PE" (see Naperville, IL, Titusville, PA, Delano and Canyon Country, CA, etc.) become the standard. All the relevant neuro-science (Ratey, Hannaford, Jensen, Medina, etc.) support physical education and activity throughout the school day.

Schools have the responsibility to allow children to make choices, but the choices don't have to be between good, mediocre and bad but responsibly should be between good, better and best. It is unethical for schools, financed by tax payers dollars to offer food and drink that are not only harmful to a students health, but would have an adverse on their performance in the classroom.
Joe Herzog, Retired, Physical Educator, Fresno Unified School Dist, CA 1965-2001

Posted by: bigfish344 | June 4, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

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