Study indicates junk food in schools is not main issue in childhood obesity problem

The proportion of children who are obese has risen significantly over the last 30 years.  A comination of factors are cited as the cause including poor diet, over eating, lack of physical exercise plus the increasing use of computers and televisions which encourage a sedentary lifestyle.  Over the last decade garden trampolines have become very popular as a way to allow children an accessible and fun way to exercise at home, which can improve their overall activity levels.  The most common comment we get from parents who have bought a garden trampoline is that it was “the best thing we have ever bought for our children.”

For parents who are aware of these issues it is possible for them to manage a child’s diet at home but managing their diet while at school is more difficult.   Parents will often put pressure on schools not to sell junk food such as sweets, fizzy drinks, chips and crisps as they may not be aware how much of these products their children are consuming.  However, a recent report on a study carried out by Jennifer Van Hook, a Professor of Sociology and Demography at the Pennsylvania State University, which appears in the January 2012 issue of Sociology of Education found that weight gain in children could not be attributed to the availability of junk food in schools.

“We were really surprised by the result and, in fact, we held back from publishing our study for roughly two years because we kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there.”

The study relies on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class 1998-1999 which follow a nationally representative sample of students from the Autumn of kindergarten to the spring of eighth grade.  Van Hook and her coauthor Claire Altman used a subsample of 19,450 children who attended school in the same county in both fifth and eighth grades.

In the study they found that 59.2% of fifth graders and 86.3% of eighth graders attended schools that sold junk food.  But although there was a large increase in the number of students who attended a school that sold junk food between the fifth and eighth grades there was no increase in the number of students who were obese or overweight.  Actually the increased availability of junk food between the fifth and eighth grades corresponded with a fall in the percentage of students who were overweight of obese from 39.1% in the fifth grade to 35.4% in the eighth grade.

The authors say that, despite the common view that schools have the ability to help reduce childhood obesity levels by only selling healthy foods and avoiding selling junk foods, the study results suggest that “.. – when it comes to weight issues – we need to look far beyond schools and, more specifically, junk food sales in schools to make a difference.”

According to Van Hook, in order to make inroads to reduce childhood obesity level policies need to concentrate more on the home and family environments as well as the broader environments outside school.

At Atlantic Trampolines we have always believed the garden trampoline offers an effective counterweight to the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by hours of watching television or playing on computers.  The garden trampoline is readily available and can be used all year round.  It requires no specific skills to use and can be really fun exercise.  According to NASA trampolining is one of the most efficient forms of exercise.  We understand trampolines are regularly recommended by physicians treating overweight and obese children, and help all children to lead a more active lifestyle.

Our recently launched iPhone application, iTrampoline, is a great way to make trampolining even more fun and helps you measure the amount and intensity of your exercise session.  It is free to download to your iPhone or iPodtouch.

The study concludes by suggesting that, when it comes to combating childhood obesity and weight issues, policymakers should put more emphasis on younger children.  “There has been a lot of research showing that many children develop eating habits and tastes for certain foods when they are of preschool age, and that those habits and tastes may stay with them for their whole lives”, says Van Hook, “so their middle school environments might not matter alot.”

This view can apply to exercise too and young children who have the ability to use some simply play equipement, like a trampoline, can be encouraged into having an exercise “habit” which can stay with them for their whole lives.  The particular advantage of a trampoline is that it can appeal to a wide age range – from 6 to 66!

Author: Bob Bounce

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