Did you know there's a name for foods and drinks that are sold in schools, but aren't part of the federal meal program? They're called "competitive foods," and you might find them in vending machines, a la carte cafeteria lines, or school stores. State laws regulating them vary, and some laws are stronger than others. They might regulate specific nutrients (such as fat content), types of beverages (like sugar-sweetened drinks), and times of day when these foods and drinks can be sold.
As you might guess, such laws are the subject of vigorous debates about state interference in kids' choices. But new research suggests that they might just work. A study published online today in the journal Pediatrics shows that regulating competitive foods may help kids avoid weight gain, if the laws are strong, specific, and consistent.
Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and the National Cancer Institute analyzed over 6,000 kids in 40 states, matching up state laws with changes in kids' body mass index (BMI) from 5th to 8th grades. Their results showed that "state competitive food laws are associated with lower ... BMI change if laws contain strong language with specific standards and are consistent across grade levels ... elementary school laws may have a limited impact unless reinforced by strong codified laws at higher grade levels."
No matter what your state laws, or school's policies, may be, it's a good idea to talk with your kids regularly about what they're eating at school.