Peter Fu, a senior at Naperville North High School in Naperville, Ill., says students should be able to decide for themselves whether to eat junk food. He opposes legislative efforts to prohibit candy and soft drinks from school vending machines.
Adolescents in states with strict laws regulating the sale of snacks and sugary drinks in public schools gained less weight over a three-year period than those living in states with no such laws, a new study has found.
The study, published Monday in Pediatrics, found a strong association between healthier weight and tough state laws regulating food in vending machines, snack bars and other venues that were not part of the regular school meal programs. Such snacks and drinks are known as competitive foods, because they compete with school lunches.
The conclusions are likely to further stoke the debate over what will help reduce U.S. obesity rates, which have been rising drastically since the 1980s. About a fifth of U.S. children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health experts have urged local and state governments to remove competitive foods from schools. In recent years, states have started to pass laws that restrict their sale, either banning them or setting limits on the sugar, fat or calories they contain.
The study tracked weight changes for 6,300 students in 40 states between 2004 and 2007, following them from fifth to eighth grade. It then compared weight changes over time in states with no laws regulating such food against those in states with strong laws and those with weak laws.
Researchers used a legal database to analyze state laws. Strong laws were defined as those that set out detailed nutrition standards. Laws were weak if they merely offered recommendations about foods for sale, for example, saying they should be healthy but not providing specific guidelines.
The study stopped short of saying the stronger laws were directly responsible for the better outcomes. It concluded only that such outcomes tended to happen in states with stronger laws.
But the authors argued that the study offered evidence that local policies could be effective.
NEW YORK TIMES