Study: Junk food laws help curb child obesity

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 By

Close-up of the belly of an obese child.

Thumbs up to Big Brother? Junk food laws may curb child obesity. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Tony Alter/Flickr)

For all the potential criticisms one can levy against the nanny state mentality, sometimes, facts sometimes support Big Brother’s method. In the case of a recently released study on the impact junk food laws have had on child obesity, there is compelling evidence that suggests that when such regulation is applied to school cafeteria food and availability of vending machines with unhealthy food, student weight declines.

Restrict junk food, fight child obesity

The new child obesity study, which published today in the journal Pediatrics, offers what some experts are calling the first real evidence that school regulations can have a positive effect on a student’s weight. Junk food laws like those in states like New York, when translated down to the institutional level, may effectively restrict the sale of sugar-laden soft drinks and pre-packaged, heavily processed junk food. This is turn helps slow child obesity.

The Associated Press suggests, however, that the Pediatrics study is not a “slam-dunk.” While the results of the study may seem comprehensive and convincing, it seems unlikely that junk food laws will suddenly become less politically controversial.

Methodology of the child obesity study

The child obesity study kept track of 6,300 students across 40 states during a three-year period ending in 2007. Weight changes were observed as each student moved from fifth to eighth grade. Looking at averages, students in states with strong junk food laws gained fewer pounds than did students in states without tough laws. Also, in states with heavy junk food and child obesity regulation, students who were already considered obese were found to be more likely to drop down to a healthier weight.

No direct correlation

Critics of the Pediatrics study note that there is no specific claim that stronger junk food laws directly correlated to less child obesity. At best, there may be what the New York Times calls “a strong association,” a notion that Virginia Stallings, director of the nutrition center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, fully supports.

“This is the first real evidence that the laws are likely to have an impact,” she told the AP.

Even if the connection between strong junk food laws and child obesity is tenuous, Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School wonders if there’s a down side in having such regulation, health-wise.

“What are the downsides of improving the food environment for children today?” he asked. “You can’t get much worse than it already is.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, approximately one-fifth of U.S. teenagers were obese between 2009 and 2010.

The role parents play in child obesity

Sources

New York Times

Slate

Washington Post

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