As children head back to schools across the country in the coming weeks, many will be facing menu changes in school meals as new significant nutritional standards take effect in the National School Lunch Program for the first time in 15 years. Some districts, like in Tolland, have already made concerted efforts to provide healthier menu selections for students to help combat the rise in childhood obesity.
Schools that have gone one step further by regulating food in vending machines, snack bars and other venues on campus have provided even greater benefit to their students, according to a new study published Monday in Pediatrics. Tracking adolescents over a three-year span in 40 states, a strong association was seen between strong state laws regulating nutrition content of competitive foods and drinks—those sold outside the federal school lunch program—and lower adolescent weight gain.
Obese or overweight fifth graders living in states with strong laws also had a greater chance of reaching a healthy weight by the eighth grade than those living in states with no legislation. The weight gains in states with weak laws were similar to those of students in states with no legislation.
While the effects of food legislation as demonstrated by this study were not enormous, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital told the Associated Press, “What are the downsides of improving the food environment for children today? You can’t get much worse than it already is.”
With 17 percent of all U.S. children overweight or obese—three times the rate of a generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—providing healthier school foods is an important step toward curbing childhood obesity. Children consume an estimated 30 to 50 percent of their daily calories during school.
Read more about school food nutrition’s effects on children here.