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15-08-2012 | Article

School snacks ban worth its weight


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MedWire News: Foes of regulation may want to chew on the fact that children in US states that ban unhealthy snack foods in schools gain less weight than their freely munching peers.

In states with laws regulating nutrition in "competitive" foods - food and drink sold outside of federal meal programs - students gained fewer body-mass index (BMI) units than children in states with no such laws, report Daniel Taber (University of Illinois, Chicago) and colleagues.

Students in states with tougher food laws were also less likely to be overweight or obese over time.

The authors explain that one of the provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is a requirement that in schools participating in federal meals programs (a large majority of public schools), competitive foods will be subject to nutrition standards set by the US Department of Agriculture.

"Some experts questioned the potential impact of such policies by noting that students consume a relatively small proportion of their daily calories at school and can compensate for school changes by obtaining energy-dense foods elsewhere," Taber et al write in Pediatrics.

To see whether the rules can make a difference, the researchers combed through a legal database to identify states with competitive food laws, and ranked states as having strong, weak, or no laws for the years 2003 and 2006. For height and weight data, they drew from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, looking at information on 6300 students in the fifth and eighth grades.

The team found that in the states where competitive foods in schools were tightly controlled at baseline, students gained an average of 0.25 fewer BMI units than did students in states with no such laws. Additionally, students in states where the laws remained consistently strong throughout the study period gained fewer BMI points than students in states with no laws.

In states where laws were weakened from 2003 to 2006, students had a gain in BMI similar to that of their peers in the states lacking competitive food nutrition standards.

Law strength and consistency emerged as two key factors that influenced the association. "Adjusted BMI gain was lowest among adolescents exposed to laws that contained specific, required standards that were consistent as students progressed from fifth to eighth grade, whereas adolescents exposed to weaker laws over time experienced the same BMI change as those never exposed," the investigators write.

By Neil Osterweil, MedWire Reporter