A subject that is sure to stir debate is whether or not we need junk food laws.
Childhood Obesity Statistics
According to government statistics, almost half of all American children and teenagers are overweight or obese.
Child Obesity Causes
Television is rich with junk food advertisements that focus on youngsters and offer the temptations of sugar and fat rather than teach children to eat healthy. Followed by more advertisements that offer more temptation by featuring more sugar and fat. Who knew that obesity-related illnesses like diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease came professionally packaged for children?
Then it’s off to school where, traditionally, food choices consist of cheap and unhealthy foods. Choices including sugar-dense sodas often are available in lunch rooms and vending machines.
A 2010 study posted in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association noted that 40% of the calories that children and teenagers consume daily are had from sugar and fat. The main sources of consumption are soda and fruit drinks.
The result of all this is that child obesity rates have tripled in the last thirty years. Taking note of this unsettling trend, an obesity specialist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital stated that the situation cannot get much worse. Given the current downslide in the health of America’s young people, junk food laws have been enacted to fix our childhood obesity epidemic.
Truth About Junk Food Laws
Let me immediately acknowledge that junk food laws are without doubt a fuel for political debate and “nanny state” labeling. Industry and cash burdened schools are also opposed, but it is best to let politicians muddle through the politics as I am sure they will. Instead, let’s examine whether or not these programs are effective in stopping child obesity.
A study published online in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that junk food laws are getting positive results.
Some 6,300 students from forty separate states had their heights and weights tracked across a four-year period. Six states had laws that harnessed the sale of competitive foods sold in vending machines, school stores, and during fundraising events. Seven states had weak laws and twenty-seven states had no laws enacted at all.
Strong laws were nutrition specific and limited sugars and fats. Weak laws were vague, alluding to the sale of healthy foods but gave no details.
The study found that those children between fifth and eighth grades who lived in states with strong junk food laws in schools gained less weight than other children. Furthermore, those children who were obese while in fifth grade were found to have reached a healthy weight by eighth grade.
In states with strong junk food laws about 39% of the fifth graders were overweight and 21% were obese at the start of the study. When these children reached eighth grade, the numbers had decreased. Some 34% of the children were now considered overweight and 18% were considered obese. In states with weak laws or no laws, no changes were reported.
Although the changes are modest, they are positive. Although the study does not establish an inarguable correlation between junk food laws and weight loss, it is being recognized as the first evidence that junk food laws are likely to make a difference for the better.
USDA Bans Junk Food Sales
In 2014 the U.S. Department of Agriculture banned the sale of junk food in schools nationwide. After July, foods sold on school campuses couldn’t contain more than 35 percent sugar or fat. Any trans fats were no longer allowed. And the sale of beverages were restricted to water, low-fat and no-fat milk, and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices.
The regulations include vending machines, which from there forward were allowed only to sell fruit, dairy products, whole-grain foods, lean-protein products or vegetable items that are less than 200 calories for “snacks” and 350 calories for “entrees.”
School food experts say they expect these broader changes will help drive down childhood obesity rates.
Living larger than ever,
My Bariatric Life
Photo: Medical Daily