School food bans won’t stop obesity

A recent study in Sociology of Education found there was virtually no difference in the child obesity rate in schools that had banned vending machines selling soda and snacks, compared to those that had not banned them.

Schools are easy to blame for child obesity because (1) children spend so much of their day there, and (2) they are an easy target for grandstanding politicians who want to believe they are doing something about the problem.

This study reinforces other research that indicates school food is not the answer. A 2011 study found that students who do not have access to soda in schools compensate by drinking more at home.

The results of a major National Institutes of Health study targeting 5,106 schoolchildren in 56 schools in four states  were typical. Researchers did all of the things that policymakers say the schools should do: They introduced health education for pupils and their families, increased physical activity and lowered fat content in school lunches and vending machines. The result: no effect on weight.

School interventions generally are negated by whatever happens at home. Why? The parents are overweight, and poor nutrition and genetic tendencies clearly run in the family. If the causes of childhood obesity were easy to isolate, solutions would not be so elusive. However, it is a complex web of genetics, psychology, technology, sedentary lifestyle and diet that conspire to fan the flame. The two major factors are inactivity and an abundance of readily available, calorie-rich food. One-third of children eat fast food on a typical day, and only 8 percent of adolescents achieve recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. It is not that complicated.

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