Study Says Restricting Junk Food Sold In Schools Could Help Slow Child Obesity Rates

Many U.S. states have been trying to slow the onward march of childhood obesity by creating laws that restrict the sale of junk food and sugary drinks in schools, and now a new study says those efforts may have worked. It’s the first study of its kind to look into whether school food rules are doing what they’re supposed to — promoting healthier lifestyles for kids.

The study in the journal Pediatrics says kids gained less weight from fifth through eight grades if they were living in states with strict and consistent school snack rules, as opposed to those schools without any laws governing how and what kids eat.

If kids started out by being obese or overweight in fifth grade, the study found that they would more likely be at a healthy weight by the time eighth grade rolled around if their state had strong laws clearly outlining the amounts of sugars and fats allowed in food sold outside mealtimes, reports USA Today. States that just sort of said, “food should be healthy” in the vaguest of terms were those deemed to have weak laws.

The more consistent the laws are from grade to grade, the more effective they’ll be, said the study’s authors. The study started in 2004  when kids were just about done with fifth grade and were ready to enter middle school. Heights and weights were measured then, and again in 2007 at the end of their eighth grade year.

States with strong laws that continued throughout elementary and middle school had around 39% of fifth-graders overweight at the start of the study, which fell to 34% by the end of eighth grade. Fifth-graders who were obese at the start accounted for 21% of students, which then dipped down to 18% by the study’s end.

As for those weak states, 37% were overweight and 21% were obese, with barely a tick in either direction by the time the study was over.

By no means does the study provide incontrovertible proof that kids’ weights were directly linked to these laws, but it’s a nice boost for health experts who’ve been trying to rid schools of junk food.

“This is the first real evidence that the laws are likely to have an impact,” said  the director of the nutrition center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She’s the chair of a panel that is pushing for snack food standards in schools.

Study: Junk food laws may help curb kids’ obesity [USA Today]



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  1. Alexk says:

    Hmmm. Kids spend half their day in school, five days a week. Restricting the easy availability of junk food lessens obesity. Wow. This required a STUDY?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Apparently it does, because many people still believe it has no effect, refuse anything that suggest they can’t raise their own kid correctly, or simply don’t care

    • dru_zod says:

      Based on the school calendar where I live and the number of hours they go each day, kids are in school approximately 15% of the year. The other 85% they are somewhere else. Junk food at school may be helping the kids to become obese, but cutting the junk at school won’t help if they’re eating twice as much of it at home.

      • dru_zod says:

        Should have said, the 15% is based on the actual hours spent in school, not days.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        appropximately 33% of their life is slept sleeping. What’s your point?

        You get a small number of eating decisions a day. One bad decision a day might be 25-33% of your eating decisions for that day. There are a lot of ways to throw percentages around, so by both our examples that’s a pretty useless way to explain this away.

  2. Kabusted says:

    It was probably a multi-million dollar government grant. But then again, this is really in the category of O RLY?!

  3. milkcake says:

    Something about obesity I don’t understand is that, why don’t people just have self control? Just don’t eat that much. I mean if you are a person who eats little and get fat, fine not much you can do. But if you eat a lot, what did you expect? Don’t eat that much.

    • LadyTL says:

      Not all causes of obesity are solely through eating habits or eating and exercise habits. There is alot of medications that cause weight gain as well as medical conditions.

      • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

        Which still requires food and usually; a conscious, voluntary process. This process, must repeated over an extended period of time, to go from a healthy weight to an unhealthy weight.

        • LadyTL says:

          So you think human bodies ignore the effects of medicine and health conditions?

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Reaction to food, and cravings, are an involuntary process.

          So while what you choose to eat requires a conscious choice, what you want to eat and why are completely impossible to directly control.

          • JEDIDIAH says:

            Sure they are. They are influenced by your choices. Your choices either make the situation easier or it makes the situation harder. It’s not entirely out of your control. However, it does require more insight then you are likely to gain from the educational establishment.

      • Smiling says:

        What? When I was a kid, no other kids were fat or overweight except maybe one kid in the whole grade who usually ate ungodly amounts of food. I doubt that new things have cropped up in the 25-35 years since I was a kid. We didn’t have any vending machines in school at all. Even in high school, we had no access to vending machines, and virtually no one was fat. We only had one fast food place until I was in 10th grade. Again, virtually no one was fat.

        99% of the problem is kids just eating too much. Hell, I have hypothyroidism, regularly take steroids for Lupus, and take anti-depressants and I am still managing to lose weight despite having a disease and taking weight gain type meds. How? Eating less and eating better. Weight loss has been slow and hard, but I am doing it and am pretty much normal these days. I call BS that all of these kids have diseases and are on meds. Even the ones who are can lose weight with work.

        • Outrun1986 says:

          There is more fast food, and less playgrounds here, most of the fast food restaurants are taking out the playgrounds that they used to have, and where playgrounds used to be fast food restaurants have been built. Heck some towns here have 10+ restaurants and fast food places just in a single strip of real estate. The living situations of children are changing dramatically, the 2 parent family is not present in every household as it was when I was in grade school which meant one parent stayed home and took care of the house while the other was the breadwinner. Now sometimes both parents if present have to work which leaves no time for cooking so when everyone is home and is hungry McDonald’s it is.

          When I was in grade school we were required to bring a lunch from home, since our cafeteria did not serve hot food. If we were a good class we got treated to a pizza party once or twice a year. Food from home is almost going to always be healthier than eating what is provided in the cafeteria, considering what some schools provide in the cafeteria these days. Even if you did bring a sandwich and potato chips, that is a lot better than eating chicken nuggets and fries that have been saturated in grease.

          I don’t remember fat kids being a problem, but in my cousin’s schools now the ratio of fat kids to normal kids is about the same as it was when I was in school at least for grade school. I have noticed that the middle schoolers are getting larger though, some are more than adult sized and could easily pass for mature women, but again, there are plenty of thin to normal students mixed in as well. It seems like these articles are saying OMG everyone is fat, when in reality its a mix of fat and thin, at least it is here, and there is probably still more thin than there is fat.

          We did not have vending machines in grade school and when I was in high school the food was nearly home cooked in the cafeteria until the last 2 years when they started implementing the processed crap that no one wanted to eat (I am sure some students lost weight from skipping lunch). We had one soda machine in high school which was not turned on until 3pm. No one was really fat in high school, we had some bigger girls and plenty of thin girls but I would not say anyone was incredibly obese.

      • luxosaucer13 says:

        Prednisone is one such medication, which is prescribed by doctors when they’re confronted with a medical condition in which they have no clue how to otherwise effectively treat. Prednisone causes weight gain, amongst many other problems, even amongst moderate eaters.

      • JEDIDIAH says:

        No. It all comes down to your personal habits. It’s just that can be very subtle. Americans are actively discouraged from thinking critically or being self aware. We’re fed propaganda that we’re all identical and fed bad nutritional education on top of that. So most of us end up following bad advice and have no means to cut through the crap.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Biologically, we don’t have self control. Biologically, we are designed to eat any food available, because as a species we lived in food scarcity. We eat because we didn’t know if we’d have food the next day. Some countries still live in this situation, so clearly it’s not an unnecessary trait to have. On top of that, there’s reason we crave sugar, rather than craving purely nutritional foods. Finally, while our bodies also prefer sugar, we also have some interesting reacti0ons to sugar that makes us prefer it more once it becomes part of our diet.

      Yes, there some level of self-control involved here, but our entire genome is acting against us in this particular case.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        All of what you said is true – we were evolved in a feast-or-famine kind of environment. And frequently a run-or-be-eaten environment too.

        Your last point is the most salient though. People need to take responsibility for themselves and their children. The problem is that they’re not – they’re blaming McDonald’s, schools, Pepsi, so on and so forth ad infinitum. No one wants to accept the fact that ultimatley, the person who’s responsible for your own sloth (and that of your kids) is YOU.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          The last line probably is the most salient, but your conclusion completely warped the meaning of the sentence.

    • qwickone says:

      +1 I feel the same way. I’ve been told it’s not that simple for some people (to just not overeat), but I just don’t understand that. I LOVE food, but I realize if I eat as much as I want of everything I want, then I’ll be fat, so I don’t.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Just because you don’t experience what they experience, that you can’t empathize, doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it and potentially learn to sympothize with them.

      • LadyTL says:

        Just to let you know you can be fat without “overeating” or “under exercising.” Certain medicines can cause weight gain that is separate from your eating habits as can some medical conditions.

        Also you can’t tell why someone is fat by looking at them.

        • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

          They still over ate, or under exercised. The amount of calories taken in, was greater than the amount which they burn. Yes medical conditions may make adjustments to how food is absorbed, but the person is eating more food than their body needs. They are still putting the food in their mouth, and should take accountability.

          • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

            If you want to talk accountability, then let’s talk about the accountability of parents who don’t teach their children good food habits. But then you get into a nasty debate about how THEY were taught bad habits.

            Then there is the school’s accountability If a child only has access to soda and candy bars at school, that’s what he will learn (stress LEARN) to eat. He is being taught to eat soda and candy bars at school.

            And who provides the school? The general public, through taxes, elected officials, etc. In the end, we as a people are accountable for our children, who then become accountable for theirs.

            We are as accountable for the general health issues we face as a group as we are for the ones we face individually.

          • Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:

            Just so you know, the so-called ‘Calories In, Calories Out’ theory violates a fundamental law of the universe: The Second Law of Thermodynamics. That is to say, no system is one hundred percent efficient. The human body is in fact vastly inefficient, wasting over 80% of the food we consume.

            The large calorie is a unit of heat energy; it’s measured via Copper-Slug Calorimeter through burning, which is not the same way the human body retrieves energy from food via digestion. Burning is near-perfectly efficient, converting the majority of mass into energy. Human digestion is dramatically less efficient, as I mentioned prior.

            Yes you can try to count calories in and calories burned, and for some people, that works. Good for them, I wish them no ill. But in essence, all that does is make an educated guess.

            • wombats lives in [redacted] says:
              • Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:

                I was not aware there was an argument using the First Law (i.e. “Energy is neither created nor destroyed, et cetera”) and, to me, to use that as a basis for one’s argument against weight loss is kind of silly.

                I feel I must point out that, while very interesting to read, the article says very little on the subject which I based my argument, the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “No process is possible in which the sole result is the absorption of energy from a reservoir and its complete conversion into work.”

                In other words, there is -always- waste energy. You cannot convert 100% of calories consumed into 100% of calories burned. No energy system is that efficient; excess energy must either be stored elsewhere, or deficit energy must be drawn from another source.

                • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

                  I think we’re actually quite close to agreeing. When there is a deficit of energy to be absorbed from food, our body starts to find another source, fat, sometimes muscle, etc. With my counting calories and basic formula above, I meant to get across that each person has a point for how much food they eat that they won’t really gain or lose weight. If they then reduce the amount they eat, without changing other variables, they should start losing weight. The opposite is also true.

                • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

                  The preceding link from this comment [while not directly relevant] does point to the first Law of Thermodynamics (which is somewhat derivative to the second Law), but taking a step back the initial comment —

                  “The amount of calories taken in, was greater than the amount which they burn.”

                  — I read it as “calories” in general.

                  I do agree on your point that in reality there will be loss of efficiency when a body does some work. I think, to make it clearer — the whole point is that the basic principle of “energy in = energy out” is there, but in a non-ideal case the output is not mathematically equal to the input. What remains, though is that if one side is out of balance with the other (factoring in its loss of efficiency), the body will have to account for the accumulation/deficiency of energy. I am familiar with the mass/energy equation, but getting into any more details will give me nosebleed.

            • JEDIDIAH says:

              …or you could just apply science:

              Observe. Predict. Experiment. Revise.

              Pay attention to what works and what does not.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          That only affects a tiny portion of the population…so little such that it really doesn’t bear being brought up – lest the regular fatties glom onto it as their own excuse.

          “I’m the size nature intended me to be!” No, in “nature” if you were that size you’d have been some predator’s dinner a long time ago.

          • LadyTL says:

            In 2011 11% of the US population was on antidepressants, weight gain is on antidepressant side effect lists.

            At the same time 62% of women of reproductive age were using birth control. Weight gain is a known side effect of birth control.

            How is that tiny when that is only two of over a dozen medications that can cause weight gain?

            • pecan 3.14159265 says:

              But not every side effect actually affects everyone. So even though it’s possible 62% of women using birth control can gain weight, it could be more like .05% actually do and the rest are the same.

              • LadyTL says:

                Well given only few studies have been done and they give conflicting results, we won’t know the exact percentage for quite a while. But if going off anecdotal evidence, it is doubtful that less than a percent have no weight gain.

                Also there is alot of drugs out there besides birth control with weight gain as a side effect, do you really need a list?

    • ARP3 says:

      There are a lot of factors at play:

      1) The increase in HFCS in foods, which our bodies react to differently than regular sugar.
      2) Increased portion sizes. A happy mean for kids is about the size of a full serving from 40+ years ago. Yes, I guess you can not finish your meal, but we’re pysiologically programmed to finish what’s in front of us (and most of that were raised that way too).
      3) Reduction of PE and recess at school
      4) Parental fear encouraging indoor activities.
      5) Parents letting TV and Video games raise their kids.
      6) Decreases in quality of food (e.g. foods picked raw, more presevatives, etc).
      7) More consumption of highly processed food.
      8) Lack of self control

      So this combination of things contributes to obesity.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        I hate to sound all like “back in my day”, but truly – I walked from the bus stop and home, about 1/2 mile each way downhill in AM, uphill in PM (I was lucky it was a short walk). I was involved in marching band, bowling, softball, swimming at the pool, riding bikes with friends, and we had a community center where we could play basketball, volleyball, and trampoline stuff during the winter. Only one person I knew had an Atari. So – we played outside, and did stuff outside as much as possible.

        Fast food was a rare treat, and I wasn’t allowed to eat before supper, and snacks later in the evening were controlled by my parents (gee, there’s a thought).

        Now there’s door to door bus service, and kids park themselves at the computer after school, and if they’re not in some sort of scholastic sports, that’s where their behinds sit until it’s bedtime. The only exercise they get is texting or typing. And it seems like cooking meals for some families has gone by the wayside, and has been replaced by fast food.

        It’s no wonder we have an obesity problem.

        • ARP3 says:

          Same here. We were outside doing stuff nearly from sun-up to sun-down on weekends and during the summer. That’s why I added parental fear. I don’t think there’s been a massive increase in child abductions, but it certainly is sensationalized more and so out of fear, parent won’t let kids out of their house, yard, etc.

          True also that fast food has become a common meal rather than a rare treat. Lot’s of factors at play (more two working parent households, general laziness, etc.).

      • tlvx says:

        Agreed. High Fructose Corn Syrup is a bane on the U.S. populace, and it certainly wasn’t always this prevalent in our grocery choices.

        Personally, I know that I have trouble digesting HFCS, as opposed to cane sugar. Being allergic to this substance has make my life increasingly difficult to lead- in this country. The amount of time and extra resources that I have to devote to avoiding HFCS is completely ridiculous, and should not be required in a normal, healthy society.

        It’s funny… If I just moved to Europe, I’d likely have a much easier time finding healthy things to eat… without having to check every single label for unhealthy substances.

    • Kate Blue says:

      In my case, it’s because of insulin resistance. Excess calories get’s added to fat, but my body won’t turn the fat back into energy, so it just keeps getting added to. Instead of using the fat, my body just turns up the hunger.

      Guess what happens.

    • chatterboxwriter says:

      For some people, it’s as simple as “eat less, move more.” For others, it’s not. I was very thin as a child and teen. When I was in 7th grade, I was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency (my pituitary didn’t make enough) and took recombinant HGH shots every day for two years. I only grew 7 inches in height, but I gained about 130 pounds and have had constant problems with cyclical cysts and other hormonal issues since then. I’ve had three breast cysts, a cyst in my brain, and two ovarian cysts, plus my hormone levels are screwy, so I’m always too hot and can’t lose a pound even if I eat 1,200 calories a day and work out 7 or 8 hours a week.

  4. Kuri says:

    Unless they start invading home life, I don’t see how this is gonna help too much.

    • samonela says:

      I think the point of the article is to highlight that the study found the laws did JUST that….

  5. The Beer Baron says:

    I do believe putting children to work in factories and on farms where they can learn the value of toil and thrift would go farther to reducing obesity rates than simply coddling them in school would, even were we to eliminate “junked foods.” And they just might learn a useful skill in the bargain! At any rate, the phossy jaw would make it difficult for them to eat, so problem solved.

    • human_shield says:

      Agreed. I would let a kid mow my lawn and clean my toilets after school in the interest of their health.

  6. lyontaymer30 says:

    All they’re gonna do is go home and double up on what they missed. When are they gonna learn? They made McD’s get rid of the Extra Large fry, now people just buy 2 large fries.

  7. shepd says:

    Did they carefully control for the likelyhood that states with strong anti-obesity programs in schools are likely also states were parents would be careful to manage what their children eat?

  8. DrPizza says:

    How about encouraging the kids to exercise a bit more, instead of *sitting* in school all day, then sitting down to play video games as soon as they get home?

    I’ve seen plenty of kids who don’t really gain weight, regardless of how many calories they take in. And every one of those kids is active.

    Also, having spent time in a high school cafeteria – I’ve watched enormous amounts of healthy food being thrown out. Kids are required to get certain menu items when they have a reduced or free lunch. Of course they’re going to lose weight – they throw half the food out! Those eating habits are already ingrained. They’ll simply skip the apple and go a little bit hungry, then hit the chips & soda as soon as they get home.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      This is exactly what happens, the healthy food is definitely getting thrown out, you may be required to take them, but you are not required to eat them. This has been going on for years and years though, just trust me on that one, it happened when I was in grade school in the 80’s, your parents packed you an apple, in the trash it goes. The school cannot control what happens when the child gets home but they could add a 30 min recess to the day so there is at least some activity but apparently now days that is too dangerous since the kid might get hurt while playing with the other children (which is why most parents allow their kids to sit in front of the TV or video games, and yes we had plenty of TV and video games in the 80’s too). If anything, extending the school day to 3pm or 3:30 and adding in a 30 or 45 min recess where children are required to run around provided they are able to would probably do a lot more to curb obesity than changing the cafeteria food.

      The eating habits are ingrained at home, a lot of children around here come from homes where frozen foods are a staple and they may have never actually eaten a piece of fruit or real meat straight from the deli counter and I am serious here. When a bag of doritos is what you hand your 2 year old when they are hungry that is all they know since it has been ingrained in them as soon as they were able to chew basically. They don’t know where food comes except from the package, since everything they eat comes out of a package these days.

  9. TasteyCat says:

    If obese kids can’t get junk food from school vending machines, they’ll just get it elsewhere. Like from their obese parents who have failed to teach them proper eating habits.

  10. Qolotlh says:

    Wow! So removing the availability of HFCS will cause kids to consume less of it?! I want a study setup to discover if inhaling provides oxygen or eating makes you less hungry. Idiots.

  11. tlvx says:

    If HFCS was just illegalized for children, the world would be a better place.

    But, there is definitely a deficiency of child activity, compared to when we were growing up… and, without something productive to do, kids just sit around, eat snacks, and get fat, just like adults.

    Public schools don’t even have gym class everyday anymore, even for elementary kids. It’s like every other day, or a few times a week. This is Nonsense! I believe this is a significant cause of obesity, early on. Kids definitely need to be taught the importance of being active on a daily basis.

    When I was a kid, I would have gone insane without the anticipation of gym class everyday. Full disclosure… I was good at just about everything, so… it’s always more fun when you’re good at sports. But, still… there’s no reason why kids can’t get their asses in a gymnasium everyday, and stretch, run laps, and play dodge-ball or whatever else is next up on the P.E. Curriculum. If I was in charge, I would have kids running the mile damn near once per week… and, no walking the mile unless you have a legitimate medical condition.

    It’s really pathetic the type of education (or lack thereof) that’s being, “dished,” out.

  12. human_shield says:

    No, it won’t. I ate plenty of junk food in school as did everyone else. It wasn’t available there so we brought it from home. There was a whole underground economy for the bartering of junk food.

    You know why kids are fat? Because they sit on their a$$ all day playing with their DS.

  13. MBZ321 says:

    Pretty much everything I would have said has already been said, but the gym class in school seems to be a deciding factor. As someone who has never had much, if any athletic ability (or interest in most sports), loathed gym class in school. Now I liked certain activities, especially when we got into the higher grades and were able to use the fitness equipment room. Unfortunately, everything was so structured was that it was only a few days and we were onto the next thing. I’ve never been overweight (in fact, I’m more underweight), but I feel if gym class was more “free” and kids were able to do more of what they like, it would be a win-win. Hell, let kids listen to their iPods and run on a treadmill if it works. Unfortunately, I doubt this is going to change, especially with schools cutting everything except mandatory classes to pass state standardized tests…(I better stop here before I go into a greater rant)

  14. Bob A Dobalina says:

    So I guess the subsidies that junk companies pay the schools to supply their crap are not enough to cover potential lawsuits from kids who grow up to be diabetics

  15. buddyedgewood says:

    Cut or eliminate spending on physical education, increase availability of soda and other crap food in schools = obesity epidemic amongst children. Gee, who thought this wouldn’t happen?

  16. VHSer says:

    Banning pop and junk food machines in school is a HUGELY bad idea. It’s going to backfire like no one’s business. If you ban these things, kids will just get them somewhere else and sneak them into school. It’s was only a tv show, but I recall an episode of some show where a kid’s school banned junk food and pop. The kid became diabetic and went into a coma and died because he ate FAR more candy and soda than he would have if the school hadn’t banned them. It’s a bad, bad idea.

  17. ctc6968 says:

    Something schools and the govt. do not talk about is the fact that when kids had more PE with actual physical activity and or recess in elementary schools there was less obesity in elementary kids. My child had PE one day a week for 30 min and 15-20 min of that time was spent taking written test, getting weighed, plus getting their daily nutrition log checked. The nutrition log (daily list of what the child ate) was 20% of their grade. The more “nutritious” foods approved by the PE teacher the better the grade. Points were subtracted for each “bad” food consumed. Seems to me that they have made it too hard for themselves to figure out one solution that has been proven to work better than most of the things they have done combined.