Obesity starts at home, not at school

While childhood obesity tripled in the U.S. between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, weight gain doesn’t correlate to junk food sold in schools, concludes a study in the January issue of Sociology of Education. Kids do most of their eating — and overeating — outside of school, according to the  study, which followed children from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there,” said Jennifer Van Hook, a Penn State sociology and demography professor, who was the lead author.

While 59.2 percent of fifth graders and 86.3 percent of eighth graders attended schools that sold junk food, a significant increase, the percentage of students who were overweight or obese decreased from 39.1 percent of  fifth grade students to 35.4 percent of eighth graders.

Kids don’t have much time to eat at school, Van Hook said.  At home, they can “eat endlessly.”

Bad eating habits start very early, she added.

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  1. Yes, but parents who do stock their homes with nutritious food shouldn’t have their efforts undermined by the availability of junk food in school vending machines and cafeterias. There’s simply no good reason for selling unhealthy food at school except that it helps the school’s bottom line. And IMHO if the school districts were better managed from a fiscal standpoint, they wouldn’t be so dependent on the revenue from selling junk food.

  2. This just in:

    Manners start at home.

    Work ethics start at home.

    Personal hygiene habits start at home.

    Organizational skills start at home.

    Aren’t government studies wonderful.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Morality (or lack of) starts at home.
      Religious belief (or lack of) starts at home.
      Self-discipline (or lack of) starts at home.

      No matter how well intentioned, schools and educators have proven time and time again that they are not capable of ameliorating the effects of the home

  3. Crimson Wife aptly offers the appropriate response and conclusion to the study. There is simply no good reason why schools can, should, or do sell junk food. And, while the students spend a majority of time outside of school, the impact of no junk food for eight hours a day during thirty six weeks a year is certainly a positive impact. While overall habits matter most, a student will benefit from drinking water all day instead of soda or powerade. And it’s not like a kid who is denied cookies and sodas at school is going to go home and eat twice as much to make up for it. Lessening overall consumption of unhealthy foods is nothing but a positive step.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Said it before: Prove kids got fatter. Prove it isn’t a matter of ratcheting down the BMI tables. I got through jump school as if it were a joke, at 6’2″, 210. Now I’d be considered overweight.

    • A quick glance around most any playground these days will show that there are a LOT more fat kids than back in the ’80’s when I was growing up. I’m not talking about big-boned, solid guys like it sounds you were as a young man. No, I mean kids who are actually chubby at an age where they should be past the “baby fat” stage. It breaks my heart to see so many entire families that are obese, from both parents on down to the preschooler 🙁

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Problem is, nobody at 6’2″, 210 is overweight. You can be in good shape at that size, or bad shape, but you’re not overweight.
        My father was supposedly the fastest end in the conference UConn was in before the war, at 6’1″, 185. Now he would be overweight.
        But I suppose I could look up some old tables and see if there’s been a change.
        If so, then what?

  5. I agree to some extent. Not all students purchase their lunch at school. Many students bring lunch from home. The parents hold most control over what children eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the very least, children have some say in what they eat, but the ultimate decision lies in the parents hands. So, if parents want their children to eat healthy and know what to give them, then its mostly up to them. They buy the food after all. If parents neglect whether their children are eating unhealthy in school and/or when not at school, again, its in the parents’ hands.

  6. Dear Crimson Wife:

    Our school got a grant for taking out the “junk” food machines, so the money flows both ways. I think you are insinuating that teenagers can’t resist dropping quarters into a vending machine. Are they not free moral agents who can choose not to buy unhealthy treats from a machine, or are they helpless before its power?

    • By your logic, we ought to have cigarette vending machines in our schools as well. After all, many 12th graders are 18 and they are free moral agents who can choose not to poison themselves with cigarettes…

      • And by your logic a valueless mandate ought to be enacted for reasons which you’ve failed to articulate beyond a bit of blame-shifting via the unsupported claim of “undercutting”.

        That study concludes that it’s people like you, by placating kids with food, that are responsible for fat kids. If you, in your individual capacity are a paragon of virtue, that’s hardly a reason to saddle the balance of society with a mandate for not being similarly noble.

      • You and I are from two different worlds, CW. You are of the nanny state. I am not. Vending machines do not wield the great influence over individuals that you think. It would not be cost-effective for someone to put cigarette machines on school campuses. The kiddies have already been brainwashed into thinking that even looking at a pack of cigarettes causes lung cancer. Our school does not dispense marijuana, but kids bring it to school everyday and smoke it. Many even smoke it at home with their parents’ knowing they do. It all goes back to the home, and by the time kids get to high school, the damage has already been irremediably done, candy machine or no candy machine.

        • I just came across a reference today in a book I am reading about a study finding access to school vending machines is associated with a higher level of refined sugars by children. This should be a “DUH” finding, but obviously it’s necessary when the idea of removing something that adds nothing of educational value to a school results in cries of “nanny state!”

          Nanny state would be the government banning the sale of junk food entirely. What I’m talking about is simply not selling it in taxpayer-funded schools (private schools can do what they like, though I have to say I’ve never seen a vending machine in one).

  7. Obi-Wandreas says:

    The fact of the matter is that junk food is far cheaper to buy, store, and prepare than fresh food. Fresh food will go from exquisite to inedible very quickly if not very carefully stored and used within a short period of time. Frozen food, on the other hand, can sit in the freezer for weeks and be dropped in the fryer at any time, and canned vegetables ( a crime against all the culinary arts ) can sit on a shelf for years. Fixing the problem requires a change in the culture of the cafeteria and higher expectations all around.

    In all the discussions I’ve heard, this is the first time, outside of talk radio, that the role of the parents has even been mentioned. In my building, I can count on one hand the number of times per year I see a student bringing their lunch. I see plenty bringing bags of chips or cookies in the morning, but almost nobody brings actual food.

    Considering how many students come to our building for pre-k not knowing what a number is or what a letter is, or in some cases even knowing their own name, food issues often get lost in the shuffle. The fact remains, however, that parents and home life are the single most important thing for a child. For all the dedicated parents trying their hardest to overcome great hardships, there are far too many who are just kinda there (or, worse, not). Until that problem is solved, there is precious little we can do.

    This should not stop us from doing what we can. The focus, however, should always remain on what is by far the most important part of a child’s life.