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Soft Drinks in Schools - Who Benefits?
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2007;33 (4S): 209- S225) looks at the prevalence of sugared soft drinks in middle schools and high schools and reports on the just how much revenue soft drink sales generate for those schools. With adolescent overweight a current (and future) concern, you have to wonder if the revenues generated by soft drink sales are worth the long-term health costs.

How to get your kids to eat more fruit
I've written before about how few children and adolescents are eating their recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables per day (Adolescents low in fruits and vegetables, 2/7/07). Researchers at Yale University recently discovered a simple way to get kids to eat more fruit (Int J Beh Nutr Phys Act 2007).

Is it "Healthy" or "Junky"?
"Drink your milk; it will help you grow big and strong," a parent tells her child. At what age are children able to correctly classify foods according to whether they are good for them or not?


 

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If It's Not Available, They Can't Eat It



Way back in May of 2007 I reported on the Intitute of Medicine's report and recommendations for school nutrition standards. In that News Bite I mentioned that the Institute recommended specifically that each school district limit their students' opportunities to choose foods that are not nutritionally approved. To recap:

"The approved foods include those that derive less than 35% of their total calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fats. They should be trans-fat free, get less than 35% of their total calories from sugars (with an exception made for certain types of yogurt), and contain less than 200 milligrams of salt per serving."

Clearly the goal in limiting children's access to these unapproved foods was to improve their diet. Faced with fewer junk food options, however, did they make better choices?

Researchers at the Arnold School of Public Health in South Carolina looked at information gathered from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which included over 10,000 5th grade children attending 2065 elementary schools (J Nutr 2009;139(1):142-144). These children responded to a questionnaire which asked about what they had eaten in the last week and specifically asked about green salad, carrots, potatoes (other than French fries or potato chips), other vegetables (not specifically mentioned already), and fruit (not fruit juices).

This information was correlated with statements from the schools' administrators, who told the investigators whether students were able to buy certain foods while at school. These foods included chocolate or other candy; cookies or pastries that are not non-fat; ice cream or frozen yogurt that are not non-fat; and various breadstuffs. Those schools that did not make any of the mentioned foods available for the students to purchase were labeled "restricted" while schools that made even one of the items available for purchase were labeled "unrestricted."

The researchers then compared the diets of the children who attended unrestricted schools with those who attended restricted schools. And they found, not too surprisingly, that those children whose schools did not offer junk foods were more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables than those students who attended schools where they could buy junk food. The difference, however, was fairly small - children at unrestricted schools were only 10% less likely to eat fruit 1-3 times per day than those children who went to restricted schools.

What this means for you

It's easy to point the finger at schools and the food options they offer and blame them for our children's diets. But the schools are only part of the puzzle. Help your kids make healthier choices by making healthy snacks the norm in your household and keeping junk food out of your pantry. If fruit and nuts, not chips and candy, are what kids associate with snacking, they'll be much more likely to reach for the better options when they're standing in front of the vending machine.

First posted: April 1, 2009