Junk Food In Middle Schools Not Key To Kids’ Obesity

Pressure has been on our schools in recent years to do their part in battling the childhood obesity epidemic – particularly by offering healthier school lunches and curbing the sale of junk food. But a recent study suggests that the chips, candy and sodas kids buy in middle school don’t impact their weight at all.


Researchers crunched data on a nationally representative sample of 19,450 children who entered eighth grade in 2007. When the students in the study were in fifth grade, just under 60 percent attended schools that sold junk food. By the time they got to eighth grade, more than 86 percent were attending campuses where junk food was sold. Researchers expected that this would translate to more overweight and obese students – but it didn’t. In fact, the percentage of students who were overweight or obese decreased slightly.


“Even after looking at the data hundreds of different ways, we never found a significant relationship between competitive food sales and increases in children’s weight between fifth and eighth grade,” says lead author Jennifer Van Hook, who directs the Population Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University.


Plenty of past research equates access to junk food with increased consumption of junk food, but no study had directly examined the impact of junk food sales on student weight until this one, she says. Part of the reason for Van Hook’s finding could be that school is not a big part of students’ overall dietary picture.


Based on her team’s findings, Van Hook says it will likely take the coordinated efforts of educators, health care providers, parents, business and government to truly reduce childhood obesity. “Schools can’t do it alone,” she says.


The study appeared in the January issue of Sociology of Education.


– Christina Elston

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