Remove junk science from our school cafeterias

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While various groups have been pushing to remove soda and junk foods from the school environment, a new study suggests that the availability of such products (however they are defined) in schools may actually have no effect on childhood obesity.

This study, conducted by two sociologists at Penn State University and published in the journal Sociology of Education, followed almost 20,000 students who started kindergarten in 1998. The researchers checked the students BMI (body mass index) in fifth grade and again in eighth grade, and correlated these measurements with the availability of competitive foods, such as snacks, candy, and soda, at these schools. They found that there was no link between children s weight and the sale of these foods in school.

While some previous research had suggested a link between children s weight and the availability of junk food in schools, one of the recent study's authors notes that these earlier studies were much smaller, and were inconclusive. The findings of the current study are supported by a 2011 report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that indicated that when students couldn t buy soda at school, they compensated by drinking more sugary drinks at home. Overall, the results suggest that selling these foods in school has nothing to do with whether children will become overweight. As one study author puts it, we can t count on schools to solve the problem of childhood obesity.

With 23 states already placing restrictions on the types of foods that can be sold at schools, this study suggests that obesity prevention initiatives might be better aimed elsewhere. This study provides further evidence that childhood obesity won t be solved just by banning a few specific types of food, notes ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava. What we need to address is how parents are feeding their children at home.