Why banning junk food in schools isn’t the only solution to childhood obesity

All across the country, communities are coming together in the fight against childhood obesity by working to ban the sale of junk food in their schools. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver even led a revolution against bad nutrition in schools. But according to a new study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, that may not be enough.

In a study that tracked almost 20,000 students from fifth through eighth grade, researchers compared children’s weight in schools that had salty and sweet snacks for sale and in schools where junk food was banned. They also took into account how much the kids kept active and compared kids that went from attending a school that had junk food to one that didn’t but ultimately found no correlation between childhood obesity and attending a school where junk food was available for purchasing. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to have lots of junk food, either.

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So does selling what the study calls competitive foods (such as soft drinks, candy bars and chips) to children in schools make a difference at all? According to a report by the New York Times, lead author of the study Jennifer Van Hook explains that “food preferences are established early in life.” The study concluded that the problem of childhood obesity and how to solve it cannot just be left up to the schools.

I know that when I was a kid my junk food consumption came mainly from home. I wouldn’t always have the money to buy a bag of chips in the school’s cafeteria for a snack, but we often had it ready when I got back from a full day of classes. School was only a small part of my environment and junk food was always available in the stores nearby, in the convenience on my neighborhood and in my house.

In our Latino households, think about about all the frituras and fat-laden foods we eat-- chicharrones, fried pork chops, and double-fried tostones. Fried foods in our culture could be more to blame than junk food in schools.

If we’re looking at how unhealthy snacks are affecting children, why aren’t we placing more responsibility on the parents who buy them or give their kids the money to do it themselves? I’m glad that we’re taking the necessary first steps of getting rid of junk food in schools but, as this study showed, that just isn’t enough.

Do you think junk food should be banned in schools or is it the responsibility of the parent?

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