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Fighting fat

Published August 15, 2012 1:01 am

Junk-food limits can work
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For those parents who are at their wits' end, trying to deal with their children's obesity, new research shows part of the answer could lie at school.

Children who live in states with strong, consistent laws limiting availability of unhealthy snacks at schools gained less weight from fifth through eighth grades than did children in states with no such limitations. Also, children who were overweight or obese in fifth grade were more likely to reach a healthy weight by eighth grade if they lived in states with the toughest laws.

Results of the three-year national study indicate tough laws that outlaw or strictly limit sugary, high-fat food and beverages in school vending machines, stores and lunchrooms can have a long-term effect on childhood obesity. The study isn't proof, but it is real evidence that such laws can have a positive effect.

Utah education officials have mostly left the decision about junk food in school vending machines up to individual districts and schools.

Only 18.2 percent of Utah middle and high schools did not sell candy or fatty, salty snacks in vending machines in 2008 — the lowest percentage of 40 states surveyed, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fifteen Utah school districts and one charter school did not allow vending machines in elementary schools, one district did not allow them in middle schools, and 32 charter schools had no vending machines as of April 2009, according to the Utah State Office of Education.

Utah needs to become one of the states whose strong laws keep unhealthy junk food out of schools because childhood and adult obesity are becoming a health crisis in the Beehive State, even surpassing tobacco.

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah incurs $345 million in tobacco-related health costs every year, but obesity-related diseases and health problems among Utah adults cost the state $485 million in 2008, and that number could more than quadruple by 2018 ,when the number is projected to jump to $2.4 billion.

Among Utah children of elementary-school age, 21 percent are obese or overweight. Obesity is a major cause of many chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, asthma, stroke and some cancers. And those maladies are showing up in children in astonishing numbers. The costs of treating these conditions for a lifetime are staggering.

Schools should teach children to choose healthier food, not make junk food all too available.