home
RSS
Battling junk food in high schools
May 11th, 2012
05:57 PM ET

Battling junk food in high schools

Five years ago, California passed some of the strongest school-food legislation in the nation in hopes of combating childhood obesity.

These rules limit the kinds of unhealthy foods that students can buy in vending machines or at a snack bar, which aren’t offered as part of lunch in the school's cafeteria.

The state is well-known for leading the nation with health trends, so it's no surprise that its legislators are out front when it comes to cutting back on junk food in schools. A new study shows their efforts may be working: High school students in California are eating fewer calories and less added sugar and fat during the school day than students from other states.

According to researchers, high school students in California eat about 160 fewer calories a day than students in the 14 other states studied, which have less stringent standards for junk foods. Most of these saved calories came from eating less while in school, and when students headed home they didn't appear to overeat to compensate for consuming fewer calories during the school day.

"If teenagers consume 158 fewer calories on average, while maintaining healthy levels of physical activity, it could go a long way toward preventing excess weight gain," says Daniel Taber, lead author of the study and investigator at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Limiting calories from junk food could potentially help a student shed about 7.5 pounds over the school year, according to an accompanying editorial in the Archives journal by Dr. Barbara Dennison. This could add up to 30 pounds by the end of high school.

But registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, points out that the study did not compare the weight of children in California to the weight of students in the 14 other states. Further studies are needed to find out if California students are indeed winning the obesity battle.

Taber says more work needs to be done.

"Just because students cannot purchase high-fat, high-sugar candies does not automatically mean they're eating a spinach salad in its place. If we really want to improve the quality of students' diet, we need to promote fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy alternatives that appeal to students," Taber said.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to regulate foods sold outside of the meal plan. Ofter referred to as competitive foods, these are snacks and junk food students can buy from the vending machines or at other locations in school. These standards may be completed within the next year.

In the meantime, California and several other states such as Oregon and Massachusetts have put together strong competitive food standards for their high school students to get a jump on the junk foods issue.

“The school setting can make significant change, but we all have to work together. It takes a village to raise a child. Neighborhoods and food companies, restaurants and the marketers of junk food have to jump on the bandwagon as well to solve this childhood obesity problem,” says Giancoli.


soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Really

    What a total waist of time. I am shocked to see that these so called experts do not see the problem. As a child, I used to run around and play at least 4-6 hours a day. That is called exercise! With video games, texting, and laptops our kids would get cramps if they tried to kick a ball or ride a bike. Make your kids get active and they will burn up those extra calories quickly.

    May 14, 2012 at 07:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • IggyDad

      You are right, both are needed. Schools now routinely limit the amount of outdoor play time children get, with recess and after-lunch play time curtailed and PE offered only once or twice a week. Our local elementary school principal told me the expectations for schools to perform well on their annual testing scores and consequently the time needed to prepare for these tests and classroom time devoted to administering them means that "extras" like PE are sacrificed. It's not only students' health that is being sacrificed, but children behave better and learn more effectively when they have been active during the school day.

      May 14, 2012 at 08:26 | Report abuse |
    • karlotious

      As a gamer i take offense to that stereotype...As someone who is more athletic than you not every gamer fits that profile. Gamers typically know what it takes to achieve a goal and are better apt to losing weight than someone who has no initiative to unlock an achievement...

      May 14, 2012 at 10:23 | Report abuse |
    • Jenny Smith

      Couldn't help but notice the slip... "waist" of time, eh?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:54 | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      IggyDad you are missing the point. It's not up to the school to make sure they get exercise, the school is only there to educate your chilren, not raise them for you. It's up to YOU to make sure they get enough exercise!

      May 14, 2012 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
    • fss

      @burbank – if your comment is true then why is the state dictating what they can and can not eat?

      May 14, 2012 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
    • sorcha

      yeah but your mom or dad probably cooked and you probably at 1/3 fewer calories than the average teen today. Plus your parents weren't negligent if they let you go outside.

      May 14, 2012 at 17:26 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      I bet you're fat, Really. You're sitting in front of the same computer screen as everyone else.

      Not to mention, WASTE, not waist. You seem to be fat obsessed.

      May 15, 2012 at 17:15 | Report abuse |
    • Zeppelin

      @fss

      It may be a parents responsibility, but parents in the US are painfully hands off with their kids, which is why so many kids are fat and stupid in the first place. It's true that school is no replacement for good parenting, but accepting how many bad parents are out there, it becomes up to the state to at least try and provide a healthy food environment while the children are under their supervision.

      May 15, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
    • pandorashope

      Point well taken! During the summer we played outside and came in for lunch and then we went outside again. We hula hooped, roller skated, rode bicycles, played basketball and kick ball until dusk. Then the streets became quiet as were called into eat a home cooked meal. I emphasize home cooked because your mother controlled what was in it and you had to eat your vegetables without complaint. If we had dessert, it was a small serving of ice cream in the summer or a small piece of un-frosted pound cake sometimes with fruit. Soda was a rarity and at least in my house if you were thirsty you drank water. My mother once let me have a Suzy Q, chocolatey cupcake thing, which I found surprising. What was not surprising is that she cut it in half and allowed me to eat one half! Also processed foods tended to be expensive and that encouraged home cooking.

      May 17, 2012 at 12:56 | Report abuse |
  2. Leila

    What is even worse is that in California, PE is now becoming an 'academic' course. Gone are the days when we used to 'dress out' for the purpose of "playing". Many high school students are complaining that much of their time is spent either running the track (no active, fun sports) and reading and writing, taking tests, focusing on their BMI, etc.

    May 14, 2012 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jen Apri

    Compared to other states, I think California is headed in the right direction. As much as the federal government can make legislation for school lunches, it is up to the states to really enforce and set even higher standards for their schools and their students.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leila

      But transforming PE into an academic study course is redundant insofar as the kids already have to take a Health Ed course to graduate. PE should be just that: PHYSICAL. It is a means of releasing pent up energy and stress between classes. The result as it stands is that kids eat during the day and sit and sit all day long.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:56 | Report abuse |
  4. babybear

    Moderation is the key to healthy living. Eat anything you're not allergic to, in moderation, should be ok. Soda, candy, cookie, potato chips should be a treat. It shouldn't be a snack.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ElPasoan1

    Kids with a high BMI need to be flagged when they enter school as kids with a pre-existing condition that way parents won't blame the school for their child being fat and unhealthy. Stop blaming schools for fat kids, they come from homes with fat and neglectful parents.

    May 14, 2012 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Procurion

    "Kids eating less at school"...translation; not eating the crap they serve...and how do they KNOW what they eat at home? The kids know what they are looking for so they give them the answers that the school wants.

    May 14, 2012 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Spirit

      Haha.. so true. When I was in high school, I often skipped lunch, and the only things I would get if I were truly hungry were cookies and chocolate milk. I was bad. Good thing I had relatively high metabolism and ate healthy the rest of the evening and during breakfast...

      May 14, 2012 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
  7. realitycheck

    California tens may be eating less of the school lunches, but at the school where I teach not only are they going off campus for Big Macs, but their parents are bringing the fast food for them at lunchtime. My classroom looks out on the short term parking area and fast food is arriving at this campus daily. Be cautious about any survey that claims to be about what happens in schools......

    May 14, 2012 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leila

      So true. My students do the same thing. They leave campus with their friends who have cars and return to have lunch with me in my classroom and guess what they have? MacDonald's. Parents also contribute to these habits by ordering pizzas, bringing their kids Taco Bell, Subway, and MacDonald's. Why should the schools even bother? The cafeteria attests that the school lunches are healthy, but I really challenge people to pay closer attention: Pizza, corn dogs, hamburgers (which I testify before God, are NOT real meat), and sandwiches on white bread filled with cheap lunch meat. These are standard fare at my school in California.

      May 14, 2012 at 18:05 | Report abuse |
  8. Brent

    Quite the shocker. Another 'expert' saying that we need to consume more whole grains. And fat has nothing to do with why we are fat! This stupid non-sense is ridiculous. Cut out the poisonous grains, legumes, dairy, soy, and artificial ingredients and boom, you are healthy. But since I don't have a PhD in front of my name my facts don't count. Study after study shows why we are fat. Simple carbohydrates! meat, veggies, water = health. I wonder how many of these experts actually care about the nation's health and are actually intellectually honest?

    May 14, 2012 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • todd

      I eliminated all of the processed foods, grains, corn, potatoes, etc. about 11 weeks ago. And the pounds have been melting off. I learned of this after reading a book called Diet Evolution and reading the website Mark's Daily Apple.

      Too bad the govt is too in bed with big agriculture to get the word out on how to eat healthy.

      For breakfast i eat an Atkins Advantage protein bar, morning and afternoon snacks are a 1/4 cup of raw nuts, lunch is around a pound of salad, and dinner is a bowl of mixed greens, a steamed or grilled vegetable and a grilled portion of meat.

      Losing weight easily and I don't get hungry like I did when I was eating junk like fast food, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.

      May 14, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
    • Zeppelin

      @ Todd

      Enjoy your pending heart attack from all that red meat.

      May 15, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse |
  9. Windy

    I am a FSD in a school district, I understand the need for healthier foods on the menu. At the elementary level getting kids to eat healthy foods is a real challenge. Starting this new school year the calories for high school year is averagering 800 calories for lunch Sample daily menu: 2 oz Hamburger, 2 oz whole grain bun, 2T ketchup, 2T lite mayo, 1/2c baked potato wedges, 1/2c carrots, 1 c apple slices, and 1 cup FF Milk. My senior boys that play sports need way more calories than what is allowed. Not allow to put cheese on the hamburger. I used to work in a hospital setting and this reminds me of the diabetic meals.

    May 14, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. thefatnurse

    This article seems to post a lot of the same "a calorie is a calorie" dogma which can make people think cutting out calories will lead to weight loss. It would be more beneficial to exam what sources these kids are getting their calories from to become obese. Fat? Sugar? The answer may provide better answers on what to do.

    May 14, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. dumb

    fat doesnt make you fat. Stop eating grains and weight sheds off....my whole family has lost weight. My husbands chronic sinusitis got cured. 3 years of docs and 2 surgeries couldnt do it, cutting out grains did. Were all leaner, healthier, and stronger. suckers

    May 16, 2012 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Don't Blame the Fatsos'

    I spend my hours traveling to schools all around California. The children in Highschool do not have that youthful appearance anymore. These children look like parents look in their 30's nowadays. Most of the girls look like they have had 3 children and the boys look like they have had way too much beer and pizza. Its really tragic... Most of these kids have lost their youthful beauty to the Junk Food Gods...

    May 16, 2012 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. raspberry

    Just passing the legislation will not help. You have to educate the population ragarding the ill effects of eating junk food. Then agian sometimes you need armtwisting to get results

    May 25, 2012 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nikki

    Nutrition at a young age is extremely important. A good diet helps children during their growth. Some schools might not supply kids with the best nutrition. A great alternative is for kids to pack their own lunch. Not only are you aware that they're receiving a healthy lunch, but they can also learn about nutrition. Check out how to pack a healthy lunch here: http://moteevate.com/planstore.php?pid=1312.

    June 27, 2012 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. web development milton keynes

    You actually make it seem really easy with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be actually something that I believe I'd never understand. It kind of feels too complex and very broad for me. I'm taking a look forward in your next submit, I will attempt to get the dangle of it!

    July 3, 2012 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Gabrielle

    @raspberry's response, I totally agree with you. Not only does the legislation need to be passed, but if parents of school children are giving them foods that will hurt them, not help them, then there really makes no difference. Healthy eating in schools is SO important, as chances of becoming obese when you're young is higher than it was 10 years ago.
    The issue isn't calories, it's all of those chemicals put into popular foods that you love, yes you know what I'm talking about. Those calories are very debatable, but the real ingredients? The high amounts of sucralose and other corn syrups? Oh, no don't worry about those, government, they are SO healthy. Gluten? Don't even get me started.

    September 21, 2012 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.