The most recent policy measures that aim to prevent junk food from competing with meals offered at schools are proving effective in curtailing childhood obesity, according to a study conducted in California and recently published in JAMA Pediatrics. However, the program is largely being shown to work in wealthier neighborhoods, while poorer areas revealed slower progress.
The study entitled “Association Between Competitive Food and Beverage Policies in Elementary Schools and Childhood Overweight/Obesity Trends: Differences by Neighborhood Socioeconomic Resources,” was led by Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, ScD, MPH, of San Francisco State University and other coauthors. The researchers analyzed the legislation in California and its effects on regulating competitive foods and beverages.
To this end, the investigators studied the meals available at schools according to the National School Lunch Program. All of the schools that are provided federal funding for the meals are also obliged to limit the food available that may compete with it, according to the rules established in California, which are some of the most strict in the country.
The research includes obesity trends among the public elementary school students of the state, four years prior to the implementation of the new regulation, which means between 2001 and 2005, as well as four years after it, from 2006 to 2010. The analysis included over 2.7 million fifth-graders from 5,326 schools and revealed that the prevalence of overweight or obese students increased during the first period, from 43.5% to 46.6%, but stabilized and started declining in the second, from 46.2% to 45.8%.
In addition, the location of the students’ homes determined the likelihood of being either overweight or obese. Attending school in low-income neighborhood raises the probability of being overweight or obese, in comparison with living in a wealthy neighborhood. The prevalence of overweight or obese students in 2010 was 52.8% in the lowest-income area, while in the highest-income neighborhood, it was 36.2%.
“To reduce disparities and prevent childhood obesity among all children, school policies and environmental interventions must address relevant contextual factors in neighborhoods surrounding schools,” reported the authors, who noted the effectiveness of the policies. However, they believe that further work is needed in order to improve the results among lower income areas.
Concerns over the effects of fast food are rising all over the world, and recently a different research also demonstrated that the number of takeaway outlets in the last 18 years has increased considerably in the United Kingdom, especially in the poorest areas, being linked to an increase in obesity. The study “Area deprivation and the food environment over time: A repeated cross-sectional study on takeaway outlet density and supermarket presence in Norfolk, UK, 1990–2008” was conducted at the UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge and published at the journal Health & Place.