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School Snack Laws Help Kids Lose Weight


Policies that restrict the sale of unhealthy snacks and beverages in schools help kids gain less weight, according to a much-buzzed about study released this week by our friends at Bridging the Gap.

Researchers discovered that children and teens in states with strong laws restricting school-based sales of unhealthy snacks and beverages gained less weight over a three-year period than young people in states with no such policies.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study also found that students who were overweight or obese in fifth grade were less likely to remain so by the time they reached eighth grade if they lived in a state with strong policies.

Lead researcher Daniel Taber — who you might have spotted on television this week describing his findings — tells the Inside Track that the research could provide a big boost for advocates working to create policies setting nutrition standards for “competitive foods,” the foods and beverages sold outside school meals.

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“I think this is definitely a big step forward for the field,” he says, noting there hasn’t been a lot of research looking at results of competitive food policies specifically. “I think this really strengthens the evidence.”

Researchers examined state laws about what competitive foods could be sold in schools. State laws that required specific nutritional standards were considered strong; laws that merely made recommendations or didn’t create specific nutritional guidelines were classified as weak.

Taber notes that for competitive foods policies to be effective, there must be clear, strict standards that are consistent across grade levels. Students exposed to strong food and beverage policies throughout the three years of the study had the smallest increase in their body mass indices (BMIs). But students who were exposed to weaker laws over time had the same change in their BMIs as kids living in states with no policies.

“It really comes down to being very specific about what the standards are… You need very specific standards, and they need to be required,” Taber says.

Research also showed that laws were most effective when strong standards were set at both the elementary and middle school level. Right now, many states have strong competitive foods policies in elementary schools, but lack similar regulations once students graduate to middle school.

Taber believes the research could support the effort to create national nutritional standards for competitive foods sold in schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was expected to release such standards earlier this year, but has yet to do so.