Strict Snack Laws Linked to Less Weight Gain in Children

By Tavernise, Sabrina | International Herald Tribune, August 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Strict Snack Laws Linked to Less Weight Gain in Children


Tavernise, Sabrina, International Herald Tribune


The study, conducted over three years in 40 states, is likely to stoke the debate over government efforts to reduce obesity rates.

Adolescents in U.S. 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 on Monday in the journal 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 breakfasts and lunches.

The conclusions are likely to further stoke the debate over what will help reduce obesity rates, which have been rising drastically in the United States since the 1980s.

So far, very little has proved effective, and rates have remained stubbornly high. About a fifth of American children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health experts have urged local and state governments to remove such snacks and drinks from schools, and in recent years states have started to pass laws that restrict their sale, either banning them outright or setting limits on the amount of sugar, fat or calories they contain.

The study tracked weight changes for 6,300 students in 40 states from 2004 to 2007, following them from fifth to eighth grade. They used the results to compare weight change 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 that the outcomes were not necessarily the result of those laws. …

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