One third of the adults and one fifth of the children in the United States are obese. While this is very problematic for adults, it is even more so in children. Serious health issues like high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes are much harder to treat in children than adults, and children who are very overweight are more prone to be severely obese as adults.
Levels of physical activity are down and many children aren’t getting their recommended amount of exercise. Lack of exercise plays a huge role in overall health but more important than that is a healthy diet. The number one saboteur of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is overeating – especially with foods that are loaded with sugars, sodium, and preservatives.
It can be difficult for a child to learn how to make healthy food choices when food products with little to no nutritional value are surrounding them everywhere they look – from the commercials on the tv to the vending machines in their schools. While school lunches are slowly becoming healthier, providing millions of students across the country with at least one balanced meal each school day, this effort to optimize health is negated by filling vending machines and snack bars in the schools with chips, candy and other treats – which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can still be found in over half the middle and high schools across the country.
In a study published this month in Pediatrics, researchers found that there is an extremely high correlation between healthy weight and strict laws regulating vending machines, snack bars and other non-meal program food offerings. 6,300 middle school students in 40 states were tracked over three years to monitor and compare weight changes. The states with the strong laws had the healthiest children. What separates strong laws from weak laws? According to the study, a strong law sets detailed nutrition standards for food that can be offered outside the school meals while a weak law simply provides recommendations. In fact, states with weaker laws were experiencing the same results as states with no regulation whatsoever.
Despite these results, the study did not make the conclusion that the children in these states were healthier because of the laws, only that the results tended to happen in the states that had the strong laws. While local policies clearly do help, it is just one part of the equation. Many experts feel that stronger, more consistent rules should be set across the board and will have many beneficial effects on a child’s health and weight. Still others feel that over-regulating the schools won’t have as big of a different as projected because it does nothing to change the child’s lifestyle at home. If a child’s home environment isn’t conducive to healthy eating and wellness, there won’t be huge effects. Despite the varying opinions on what will see the greatest results happen, one thing is certain: maintaining healthy weight as a child is of utmost importance to finding optimum health, avoiding serious diseases and conditions, and maintaining higher levels of wellness as an adult.
Alexandra Morbitzer, @FitLatina