Study: No Connection Between Kids’ Obesity and Junk-Food Sales in Schools

Is it too late to bring back the Twinkies?

Way back in May of 2010, when I wrote a blog post decrying the new societal fad for blaming school lunches for childhood obesity, I got called all kinds of … well, “fat” and “ignorant” are fair examples. My argument was simply that kids don’t get enough of their nutritional intake in schools for it to make sense to focus efforts, including national legislation, on improving nutrition there. So I was greatly interested in a new study out of Penn State that shows no link whatsoever between the weight of kids and whether or not junk food is available at their schools.

The study, led by sociology professor Jennifer Van Hook, checked the body mass indices of 20,000 kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. It took into account socioeconomic status, race, and other variable factors. And it found “no support” for the theory that the sale of junk food in schools increases the risk of childhood obesity. Or as Van Hook states it, “No matter how we looked at it, we found absolutely no difference” between kids who were exposed to junk food in school and those who were not.

Her takeaway? Schools aren’t the source of most of what schoolkids eat. Which was exactly the point I argued a year and a half ago. Despite the Healthy School Meals Act, despite the hortatory sermons of Jamie Oliver and other celeb chefs, despite even the incredibly well-meaning kids at Girard Academic Music Program who were highlighted by the Inquirer’s Kristen Graham last week, junk food in schools isn’t the problem. Junk food in all the rest of America is.

Tell us: Should efforts to curb childhood obesity stop focusing on what kids are eating at school and start focusing on, say, what they’re eating at home?