California School Junk Ban is Working

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • About five years ago a critical decision was made in California, independent of the discussions about possible mandates nationwide to combat childhood obesity.  The California legislature passed initiatives meant to crackdown on specific food items being offered in school vending machines and school lunch programs.  Over ten years ago, soft drinks in California elementary schools were banned, and shortly thereafter, they were also banned in high schools.  In 2007, nutrition standards were set for "competitive foods” offered in schools, in vending machines and elsewhere on campus.  A meet this standard and limit was set for the amount of fat, sugar and calories that could be offered in these competitive foods, if they were sold on school premises.

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    Now a new study, looking at the impact of these changes indicates, that it does seem that bans and regulations can indeed modify teen eating behaviors.  The average California high school student has cut about 160 calories, or a snack size bag of chips, from their diet since these changes.  Researchers know that cutting out 150-200 calories/day from a teen’s diet can help to prevent long term excess weight gain, and therefore risk of developing obesity. And it was noted that despite the lowered calorie intake at school, teens did not appear to be eating more to make up for the calorie deficit, outside of school.  

    To clarify the impact of the 2007 food rules, researchers looked at a group of students exposed to these these new food guidelines in their school, and a different group of students who attend schools in states where this competitive food quality control was not taking place.  The study noted that California teens got 21.5% of their daily calories from school food; the students in schools outside of California got 28.4% of their calories from school food.  The researchers were especially happy to see the positive change of a reduction of calories consumed by Hispanic students living in California and attending schools with this ban in place, since the Hispanic community in particular has been hit hard by obesity and diabetes.  Still, experts note that there is much to be done, since junk food is still quite prevalent in the lives of teens.  Iowa is way ahead of the pack in terms of noteworthy school food changes.  In 2010 the state mandated that at least “half the competitive food” in schools be rooted in whole grains.  Right now, Iowa stands alone in its commitment to swapping out junk food for healthy options on school premises.

    The bottom line opinion of experts is that improving the quality of school foods is just one battle in the fight against childhood obesity.  This disease is a complex health problem and each contributing part of the pie needs to step up and help, by making necessary changes, and that includes parents, media, advertising, urban planning, supermarkets, food manufacturers, parents and health professionals, insurance and government policy makers.


    Would you want to see these changes in your child's school?

  • Would you also try to bring these changes to your own home?

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Published On: May 15, 2012