There have been numerous school nutrition laws enacted in the U.S. to reduce childhood obesity, but few studies have evaluated the success of these regulations.
In a new study, “Weight Status Among Adolescents in States That Govern Competitive Food Nutrition Content,” in the September 2012 Pediatrics (published online August 13), researchers examine whether states that govern nutrition content of foods and beverages experience lower adolescent weight gain than those who do not.
Study authors linked height and weight data from 6,300 students in 40 states with nutrition law ratings from the National Cancer Institute’s Classification of Laws Associated with School Students (CLASS) database. They found that students gained less weight from fifth to eighth grade if they lived in states with strong laws for competitive food standards that were required, specific, and consistent across grade levels. Students were also less likely to remain overweight or obese over time if they lived in states with strong laws. Consistency of laws is particularly important because, though many states are developing stronger nutrition policies for competitive foods, some states are primarily targeting elementary schools without reinforcing the policies at higher grade levels. In states that had weaker laws for middle schools than elementary schools, average weight gain was equal compared to states that had no competitive food laws.
Study authors conclude that these results have important implications for federal and state policies targeting childhood obesity, particularly as nationwide competitive food standards are being developed by the United States Department of Agriculture as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.