The language of state laws affects childhood nutrition

Childhood Obesity Affected By ‘Strength Of Language’ In State Nutrition Laws [Study]

America’s childhood obesity crisis won’t go away overnight, despite government intervention regulating what types of food should be offered in schools. A recent study tested the effectiveness of these laws, finding that, state by state, the wording of said laws made a big difference.

The school environment is one of the most important settings in which children’s food choices and eating habits can be influenced, according to the CDC. In individual states, small cross-sectional studies have shown that policies that govern nutrition standards of foods and beverages sold apart from federal meal programs are linked to adolescent weight status. A new study shows that state competitive food laws are associated with lower BMI change when the aforementioned individual laws contain stronger language, highlighting specific standards, and consistency across grade levels.

A study published in the August issue of Pediatrics sought to determine whether the state laws associated with the regulation of nutrition content had a relationship with lower adolescent weight gain. The longitudinal analysis followed 6,300 students in 40 states in light of the nutritional regulation laws governing each state. Researchers categorized laws into strong, weak, or non-existent and balanced those against statistics regarding within-student changes in BMI, overweight status, and obesity status.

Their findings indicated that students who were exposed to state laws with stronger wording at the baseline gained 0.25 fewer BMI units and were less likely to remain overweight or obese overtime than their peers in states with non-existent nutrition laws. Students also gained fewer BMI units if they were exposed to strong laws consistently through the study’s follow-up. Students under weaker state laws had similar BMI gains as those not exposed to such regulations.

The study concludes that the state laws regulating competitive food nutrition content might have an effect on the reduction of adolescent BMI change if they are more comprehensive and detailed. Strong language is also important, and the regulations must be enacted across grade levels. “The results of this study clearly indicate that strength of language, comprehensiveness, and consistency of new competitive food standards will be imperative if the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is to have success in reducing adolescent obesity,” note the researchers.

Are you aware of any nutritional laws for children in your state?