More than three-quarters of the nation’s public elementary schools face no state or district limits on the sale of sugary drinks, candy or salty snacks, according to a survey.
Children eat at least a third of their meals at school, and spend many waking hours there, the researchers noted in their study, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Pediatrics.
At a time when about a third of children are overweight or obese, the researchers noted, those laws and regulations that do exist are meant to reduce children’s access to junk food. And elementary schools sell less candy, ice cream, sugary drinks, cookies and other such snacks when such policies are in place, the researchers said.
“We found that states and districts can influence the types of snacks and drinks sold at school,” said Jamie Chriqui, the lead author and an investigator at Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the study. The researchers look at food policies at 1,485 elementary schools in 957 districts and 45 states, and beverage policies at 1,497 schools in 962 districts and 45 states.
The study found that 43.5% of schools sold candy, ice cream, and other sweets when there was no policy, compared with 32.2% of schools that sold them when the state and district imposed limits on the sugar content of snack foods.
But the study also found that a quarter of schools in states that banned the sale of sugary drinks still sold them.
“Too many of our nation’s schools are still selling junk foods and sugary drinks to young children,” Chriqui said in a statement.
“Consumption of solid fats and added sugars is a major contributor to obesity, the researchers wrote. “In 2005 through 2008, 16% of children’s daily caloric intake came from added sugar.” They also said the top food source of energy for children ages 2 to 18 is grain-based desserts, such as cakes, cookies and doughnuts.
California banned soda in schools in 2009, with an earlier ban affecting younger children. It was among the first to do so. Opponents argued that the funds raised through such sales paid for important items, and that it should be up to families not schools what children ate and drank.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to issue regulations about food sold at schools outside school meals — called competitive foods, because they often compete with cafeteria food.
“Given the importance of developing healthy eating patterns during early childhood, policies to improve the elementary school food and beverage environment are critical,” the researchers wrote.
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