Here's a little something for you from the department of counterintuitive findings: It turns out that selling junk food in schools doesn't actually have anything to do with making kids being obese. Are you fucking kidding me? After the countless hand motions we've all wasted scrolling through articles urging us to purge every last french fry and 4,246-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew from our schools, now just nevermind? Apparently so.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University studied the body mass indexes of fifth through eighth graders who attended both schools that sold junk food and those that did not. They also evaluated what happened when kids moved from schools that didn't sell junk to schools that did. But no matter how they looked at the BMI data from the kids, they found no correlation between being in a school where "sweets and salty snacks" were sold and obesity. So basically kids who had access to junk at school weren't any fatter than the kids who didn't.
But before you run out and start shoving Doritos and Oreos into the hands of every middle-schooler you know, there's a bit more to the story. It's not that junk food isn't bad for kids, and it's not that they're not eating it. It's just that they're not really eating it much at school. Jennifer Van Hook, lead author of the study, explains:
Schools only represent a small portion of children's food environment. … They can get food at home, they can get food in their neighborhoods, and they can go across the street from the school to buy food. Additionally, kids are actually very busy at school... There really isn't a lot of opportunity for children to eat while they're in school, or at least eat endlessly, compared to when they're at home. As a result, whether or not junk food is available to them at school may not have much bearing on how much junk food they eat.
Are they really so busy in school now that they don't have time to eat junk food? That is a shame. Back in my day, I found plenty of time to luxuriously consume whole packs of Starbursts and Sun Chips and whatever other gross crap was for sale in the vending machine near the gym.
So, the moral here is that we can stop taking aim at the schools. But that means we need to redirect our energy into purging shitty food out of children's homes and purging visions of Ho-Hos and Pringles as the ideal snacks out of their minds. Of course, that's a much more sprawling and difficult problem to address, and one that starts much earlier than middle school. As Van Hook says, "Food preferences are established early in life. This problem of childhood obesity cannot be placed solely in the hands of schools."
In other words, by the time they've made it to a grade where they have control over what junk they're eating, they've already formed their eating habits and will be governed by those. So if we really want to prevent childhood obesity, we're going to have to take Jamie Oliver's school lunch show and Michelle Obama's much-discussed federal initiative into the homes of toddlers, who will probably not be the most receptive audience to being told to eat their greens. Though it would be cute to watch some sassy baby spit its peas out at the First Lady.
Nutrition: No Obesity Link to Junk Food in Schools [New York Times]
Why Junk Food at School Isn't Making Kids Fat [ABC News]
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