Maybe Schools Don't Control What Kids Eat


Bans on soda and "junk food" in public schools, while less objectionable than policies aimed at adults, have always struck me as symbolic. Since what kids eat (not to mention how much energy they expend) is determined by so many factors other than what's available at school, it seems unrealistic to expect that getting rid of vending machines selling candy bars, potato chips, and sugary drinks will have a noticeable impact on their diets or waistlines. Last fall a study reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reinforced that skeptical view, finding that state bans on sugar-sweetened beverages in middle schools "appear to reduce in-school access and purchasing" but "do not reduce overall consumption." Now a new study in Sociology of Education finds that "children's weight gain between fifth and eighth grades was not associated with the introduction or the duration of exposure to competitive food [i.e., snack] sales in middle school." As The New York Times puts it, "No matter how the researchers looked at the data, they could find no correlation at all between obesity and attending a school where sweets and salty snacks were available." The lead author of the study tells the Times "food preferences are established early in life," so "this problem of childhood obesity cannot be placed solely in the hands of schools." That observation might lead to greater respect for parental authority, or it might lead to increased interference by government-appointed experts. Which do you think is more likely?

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]