When it comes to childhood obesity in the U.S., we obviously have a problem. An estimated one in three American kids and teens is obese, according to the American Heart Association. And as a result, weight-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes are on the rise in children, which leaves health experts scrambling for ways to reverse this alarming trend.
But thanks to various food laws put in place in some schools, we may be making some healthy progress.
According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, strict laws that curb the sales of junk food and sugary drinks in schools may be reducing children’s BMIs and slowing overall weight gain.
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed 6,300 students in 40 states, first measuring their heights and weights when they were fifth graders in 2004, and again when they were eighth graders in 2022. Over the same lapse of time, researchers also examined the databases of several state laws concerning nutrition in these schools.
Among the schools examined, there were a range of laws in place to govern the food and drinks being sold either in vending machines or school stores outside of designated meal times. These laws included restrictions on the sugar and fat contents of food and beverages, and the severity of these laws ranged from district to district.
Findings revealed that schools with consistently stricter laws in place for all grades saw more effective results than those with weaker restrictions. According to the study, states with stronger laws in both elementary and middle schools saw a 5 percent reduction in the number of children who were obese over the course of the three-year study.
But in states where no laws or weaker restrictions were in place, obesity rates remained the same. Approximately 37 percent of fifth-graders were overweight at the beginning of the study, 21 percent of whom were obese. And that number remained nearly the same by the time the students reached eighth grade.
As reported by USA Today, an estimated 20 percent of elementary students in the U.S. are obese, and obesity rates among teens are only slightly lower, which paints a grim future for our nation’s health. In response to the findings, Boston University statistician Mark Glickman finds it difficult to draw any strong conclusions from the study since such minimal reductions were found.
While this study was only mildly telling of the effectiveness of nutrition laws in schools, it does point to the fact that if schools begin taking more responsibility in the food and drinks they serve students, it could mean small but important changes in our children’s health. And at this point, we should celebrate any progress made no matter how small it may be, as experts continue to predict that the children of today may be the first generation of Americans to die younger than their parents. And that’s a prediction that no one hopes will come true.