School Lunch

School Food Policies: Good News, Bad News

In JAMA Pediatrics this week, we got some good news and bad news about school food policies. The good news is that laws and regulations to remove junk foods from schools might indeed be helpful. The bad news is that the benefits appear to be unevenly distributed. Kids with social and economic disadvantages might not get much of a benefit.

A cross-sectional study in California schools found that when new state policies began limiting the availability of junk food (sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, chips, and similar items), rates of obesity and overweight began to improve. The interesting thing is that the improvements largely went to kids at schools with economic and social advantages.

Of course, this is a cross-sectional study, not a randomized trial. It could be that some other factors are kicking in to make the difference in obesity and overweight. It’s a bit surprising that the investigators didn’t really discuss other changes that were happening at that time and might have confounded their results. (If you’ve got a good story to tell, why mess it up by digging too deep?)

Regardless, this analysis provides some good food for thought. It provides a dose of both encouragement and a dose of reality. What works in one setting might be rather meaningless in another.

Said another way, policies to help privileged folks can turn out to be useless for everybody else. Isn’t that how privilege works?

Click here to read the study and here to read more in the LA Times. For a thorough analysis by UNC’s Asheley Cockrell Skinner, click here.

School Lunch, photograph by U.S. Department of Agriculture / flickr

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