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Children's Health

Does Junk Food in Schools Matter?

Study: No Link Between School Junk Food Sales and Middle School Kids' Weight
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Junk Food in Schools: Focusing on Middle Schoolers continued...

They considered whether the schools offered what Van Hook calls "competitive" food in addition to school-served food. These foods run the gamut from candy and ice cream to low-fat yogurt.

At the fifth-grade mark, 59% of the schools offered junk food. At theeighth-grade mark, 86% did.

The researchers considered race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors that might affect unhealthy weight gain.

Children in schools with junk food sales did weigh a bit more by eighth grade than the kids in schools without. However, the difference was slight and not significant from a statistical point of view, Van Hook says.

In the eighth grade, 35.5% of kids in schools with junk food were overweight, while 34.8% of those in schools without it were.

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.

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