Laws limiting or banning the sale of junk food in schools have generated plenty of controversy, but they may also be effectively dealing with childhood obesity, according to a new study.
Sweetened drinks like soda and juice and junk food like chips, pizza and other snacks have been restricted or banned in schools in several states. Some see the move as an overreach by the government. They say the restrictions infringe on personal liberty. But those who support the restrictions point to rising rates of childhood obesity as a reason why the laws are crucial and should stay in place – and perhaps get even tougher.
A broad study that followed children across the United States over multiple years tracked whether or not children at public schools that curbed junk food consumption gained less weight than children at schools that did not restrict junk food as much or at all. The result, according to the study, was that children gained less weight between fifth and eighth grade if they lived in a state where laws restricting junk food in schools were strict, compared to children living in states where such laws were lax or did not exist at all.
The results indicate that junk food consumption in schools and at a young age contributes to the rise in childhood obesity in America. This growing trend has troubled doctors and parents for years. The study provides some support for reducing the amount of junk food available in schools as one method for trying to address the problem.
According to the American Heart Association, about one in three American children and teens are overweight or obese. The AHA says this astonishing rate is three times what the rate of childhood obesity was in 1963.
One of the key issues with childhood obesity is the health problems that it causes. Obese children can suffer high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels, among other conditions. Obesity during childhood can lead to an earlier death.
The AHA warns that the effects of obesity are not restricted to physical conditions, though; there may also be psychological effects, including low self-esteem, negative body image and depression.