With the growing obesity crisis in America, many parents and schools want to encourage children to eat healthy meals. Some school districts have adopted policies that they think will help students make healthier choices, such as restricting the times that soda or sports drinks can be sold on campus. But do these policies work? Do they encourage students to choose healthier food and drinks? Researchers at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) were also curious about the effectiveness of these policies, particularly which policies encourage students to drink healthy beverages.
In the study, “District Policies and Practices Vary in Their Association With Adolescents’ Consumption of Milk and 100% Fruit Juice”, the authors studied five nutritional policies from twelve urban school districts. The authors then asked 23,173 high school students in these twelve school districts about their eating habits, specifically if the students drink at least one glass of milk and/or one glass of 100% fruit juice per day. Milk and 100% fruit juice were chosen for this study because they are considered healthier alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda.
Data on district-level policies were obtained from School Health Policies and Practice Study (SHPPS) published in 2012. SHPPS is a national survey conducted by CDC to access health policies in schools.
Overall, this article demonstrates that there is a link between a school’s nutritional policies and what types of beverages students in that school consume. Students in school districts that restricted the times sugar-sweetened beverages were sold had higher likelihood of consuming at least one glass of milk per day than those districts that did not. This is a very encouraging result as federal Smart Snacks in School regulations, which was implanted nationwide in the 2014-15 school year, limits sales of sugar-sweetened beverages in elementary and middle schools. However, this study did not find any evidence that limiting sales of sugar-sweetened beverages leads to greater intakes of 100% juice.
Interestingly, students in high schools that could not leave school during lunchtime (closed campuses) had smaller odds of drinking milk and higher odds of drinking 100% juice. It is unclear, however, as to why students in closed campus environment are less likely drink milk than those in open campus environment. Moreover, this paper did not observe any association between students’ milk consumption and policies regarding nutrition education and restrictions on promotions. This result may indicate that knowledge alone is not enough to encourage healthy eating habits among children and young adults.
These promising results demonstrate that some of the nutritional policies in place are indeed effective, but further research will be needed to show if and how the five nutritional policies studied directly caused the high school students to choose healthier drinks.
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