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Does Junk Food in Schools Matter?

Study: No Link Between School Junk Food Sales and Middle School Kids' Weight

Junk Food in Schools: Focusing on Middle Schoolers continued...

In the report, the researchers write that their study provides "no support'' for the idea that the junk foods sold in school increase the risk of obesity in the age range studied.

"No matter how we looked at it," Van Hook tells WebMD, "we found absolutely no difference between the group of kids exposed and those who were not."

Van Hook says the story may change, however, by high school. She suspects the structure of middle school, which limits the chances a child has to buy junk food, may play a role explaining her finding. By high school, students have more unstructured time and more money.

Van Hook says she is not against efforts to rid schools of junk food. However, she says her study finding suggested that ''we can't count on schools to solve the problem of childhood obesity." The school setting and exposure to junk food, she says, may represent only a small part of the problem.

Efforts directed only at removing junk food from schools may be misdirected, Van Hook tells WebMD. Those efforts should be extended to the community and to the home.

Parents can educate children about healthy diets early, she says. Habits are formed early and may also affect a child’s response to junk food later.

Junk Food in Schools: If It's Around, Will Kids Eat It?

The lack of information about each child's intake is a problem of the study, says obesity expert Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. "I don't think this study can tell you much unless you look at actual food consumption, which this study was not designed to do," she says.

"It makes sense to think that if junk food is around, kids will eat it, and there is plenty of evidence to back that up," Nestle says.

"Junk food has no place in schools," she says. "Schools set an example for what kids should eat."

Kids need a consistent message about healthy eating, agrees Ginny Ehrlich, MPH, the CEO of Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which advocates for healthier food choices in schools. Kids are the first to point out the hypocrisy of learning about healthy foods in nutrition class and then being exposed to junk foods at school, she tells WebMD.

''In school environments, where kids spend probably the most time next to being at home, it's really important that those messages about healthy eating and physical activity are reinforced and promoted," she says.

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