My nutrition and food news alerts were all abuzz with new evidence that school nutrition “laws” may be helping in the fight against childhood obesity the other day. Looking at one of the articles showed that there was a small difference in childhood obesity rates when comparing states with strict school nutrition regulations and states with more lenient regulations. Naturally there’s the caution that causation cannot be proven, we can know for sure that the laws are what’s causing the reduction in childhood obesity, there may be other differences between the states that’s causing the difference in obesity rates.
I have to admit, it is a little be heartening, after all of the data that has shown no effect of school nutrition policies on childhood obesity, to see that there may actually be a positive impact in that regard after all. However, I really think that the obesity rates are beside the point and I think that it’s unfortunate that we’re placing such importance on obesity when we look at school nutrition policies. For one thing, I think that many of the nutrition policies are flawed and restrict the wrong foods. For example, chocolate granola bars are okay but the same granola bars with the addition of almonds are not okay because they have too much fat! Perhaps the real problem with the nutrition policies is that those developing them aren’t all on the same page regarding their purpose. I don’t think that we should be selling nutritionally void foods to students, and it’s awful that schools are profiting from such sales. However, I don’t think that the approach the policies are taking is beneficial in most cases. Simply restricting foods due to certain nutrient amounts is not teaching children how to make healthy choices. It also means that the food in schools is still not likely to be particularly appetizing. Schools should be providing students with healthy food so that they are primed for learning and life. If we shift our focus from trying to remove junk to trying to increase health we might have more success. The absence of undesirable nutrients in a food doesn’t guarantee the presence of good nutrition.