Intuitively, lawmakers knew taking junk food out of schools was a good thing. Now, new numbers back that up.
A new University of Illinois study is suggesting California's policies that ban junk food in school cafeterias is influencing teenagers' eating habits. It's been five years since the crackdown, and researchers found high school students are eating an average of 160 calories fewer calories a day than kids in other states, a trend that could help reverse obesity trends. They're also eating less fat and sugars.
"Studies are really showing that we sort of stopped the growth in the obesity epidemic, that it's leveling off and hopefully these kids are taking a stronger interest in nutrition and their health," said Anne Gaffney, R.D., a student nutrition specialist.
Like Elk Grove High School, California campuses don't sell sodas, unhealthy snacks and fried foods. You'll find fruits and vegetables, French fries that are baked and whole grains. Schools have even gotten rid of salt packets.
"At first, I was kind of upset because I like salt, but it is helping me eat a lot better. And that's what I actually want to do," said Diana Nagtalon, a high school senior.
High school senior Alexander Lunbang believes he'd actually be heavier today if junk food was readily available at school.
"This would be a large size, these shorts, this shirt. I do feel like I would be heavier," said Lunbang.
Now, 160 fewer calories a day may not be much, it's like a small bag of chips. But researchers say most children could avoid significant long-term weight gain by simply cutting out 100 to 200 extra calories a day.
But, students do bring junk food from home and they consume only 25 percent of their calories at school. Assm. Richard Pan, MD, D-Sacramento, who's also a pediatrician, says more needs to be done.
"We've just shown that in the school, we've created an environment where kids will take fewer calories. We can now use this as information to talk to parents about how do we create the environment at home," said Pan.
The study's author also noted the news is also encouraging for the Hispanic community, considering the high prevalence of obesity among Latino youth.