How School Snack Rules Affect Children’s Weight

Student in front of a Vending Machine

photo: Vanderbilt Medical Center

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A recent issue of Pediatrics discusses school snacks. Not the ones that kids bring from home. The ones that are sold on campus, but outside of the USDA regulated lunches. These snacks are called “competitive foods” because they compete with the regulated foods provided by the school for free or reduced prices.

Researchers studied the effects of regulating competitive foods on the BMI (body mass index) of thousands of children across the country. The study started in 2004 when the kids were in Fifth grade and followed them for three year until they graduated from Eighth grade.

In states with stricter regulations, kids gained 2 pounds less than in states with lax regulation. Not surprising. What is surprising, is that with childhood obesity rates today, some schools still allow junk foods to be sold on premises.

It used to be sugary sodas and Snickers bars in vending machines. That changed in many schools, but not necessarily for the better. Sugary Snapple isn’t any better than soft drinks. Baked potato chips are marginally better than regular potato chips. And Quaker chewy granola bars are not a health food.

What should schools do? Here are some ideas:

  • Reduce the number of vending machines
  • Make sure water fountains are properly working and make it easy for kids to refill water bottles.
  • Sell fresh fruit instead of packaged
  • Make sure school lunch is tasty enough so kids won’t opt for the nutrition void snacks
  • Spend more time educating kids to read nutrition labels (Here is how to start)

What’s happening in your community’s schools?

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  • Violet

    I’m also curious about the damage to teeth from eating sticky foods with lots of sugar and white flour. Are there any studies about how having convenience foods at schools has an impact on oral health?

    • MrBillWest

      Out of curiosity, I looked into that a while back. What I found is that “sticky” foods do increase tooth decay. The rate of decay came down to the duration of exposure to sugars and acids on the teeth. This mean that from a tooth decay standpoint, chugging a two liter of pop in one minute is better than slowly sipping a 12 oz can over an hour. The can has less total sugar and acid, but you are keeping you teeth bathed in it for a longer period of time. The saliva can’t keep up.

      So, sticky food, even dried fruit, can cause tooth decay if eaten in excess and allowed to sit on the teeth. The internet has some nasty pictures.

  • James Cooper

    You are completely right here, but I somehow don’t think that kids would find the nutrition work sheets very compelling.

    • Fooducate

      We’ve tested with several kids and they loved them.