According to an article published this month in the journal Pediatrics, adolescents experienced less weight gain in states with stronger regulations on the sale of snacks and sugary drinks in schools than those living in states with weaker or no regulations.
The Obesity Link
The study, which controlled for such factors as gender, age, socioeconomic status and adult obesity prevalence at the outset, tracked weight changes over a four year period for 6,300 students in 40 states.
Though a strict cause-and-effect relationship could not be determined due to lack of detail in the data gathering, this is the first and largest national study of its kind to find a link between laws regulating school food and childhood obesity.
Researchers used Westlaw, an electronic legal research database, to find regulatory nutrition laws in the 40 states examined. The states' laws were then scored for strength based on stringency, specificity and strength of language.
Strong laws contained clear, specific, required standards, whereas laws categorized as weak generally contained recommendations or no guidelines at all.
Do the Laws Help?
While the study's authors could not determine causation, they still argued that the results favor adoption of stricter food regulations in schools. Daniel Taber, one of the researchers involved, identified the key components needed in such laws:
"Competitive-food laws can have an effect on obesity rates if the laws are specific, required and consistent."
If at a time when obesity levels continue to rise, more regulations on school food have a chance of improving health, maybe it's time for more states to get on board.
- Study Links Healthier Weight In Children With Strict Laws On School Snacks (New York Times)
- Weight Status Among Adolescents In States That Govern Competitive Food Nutrition Content (Pediatrics)
- C Pretty Much Everyone Is Fat (Wired)