The New York Times reported on a study that showed adolescents in states with strict laws regulating the sale of snacks and sugary drinks in public schools gained less weight over a three year period than those living in states without such laws.
There was a strong association between healthier weight and tough state laws regulating food in vending machines, snack bars and elsewhere that were not part of the regular school meal deals.
For the record, childhood obesity is bad and getting worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:
• Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
• The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
• In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
• Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.
• Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.
This is something of a sticky subject for me in that I think the less government has to do with my life the better.
Nonetheless, the nation’s obesity battle is a major problem and we seem to be losing it on all fronts. I think I have to side with the stricter laws in this case, though. Here’s why. Although we adults can make up our own minds about what we eat, kids need help.
In May of last year I wrote How to Use Your Brain for Weight Control. It focused on the role of the brain, specifically the frontal lobes, in decision making. The frontal lobes of the brain (the part directly over our eyes) are the part that separates us from the rest of the creatures on earth. They have their greatest development in man and are responsible for our decision making. They also happen to be the slowest part of the brain to develop. For most of us the frontal lobes don’t mature till we are 25 years old. For me this explained a lot of the really bad decisions I had made in high school and college. I am truly lucky to be alive.
For our school kids, who have under-developed frontal lobes and really aren’t capable yet of making the best decisions, I think the government making strict laws about what foods can and can’t be sold in schools makes a lot of sense.
The original study appeared in the latest issue of Pediatrics.
So the good news seems to be that we can establish a beachhead in the war on obesity with stricter laws on school eating. The bad news is that once the kids are out of school, they are on their own and have to decide for themselves. We can only hope their brains have developed well enough for them to make the right decisions.
How about you? Are you using your frontal lobes in choosing what to consume? Unfortunately, the statistics say that with 60 percent of us overweight and 30 percent outright obese, you probably aren’t. There is still time to change though. The longest journey begins with a single step. (I didn’t make that up.)