Study Finds That School Junk Food Doesn’t Lead To Childhood Obesity

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File photo of an elementary school cafeteria. (credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of an elementary school cafeteria. (credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS Washington) — Keep serving those tater tots at school.

A new study conducted by Penn State University suggests that children eating junk food at school has nothing to do with their weight gain.

The university used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that followed nearly 20,000 students in the same county in both fifth and eighth grades.

The author of the study says she was shocked by her findings that school junk food did not correlate to a child’s obesity, despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stating that childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years.

“We were really surprised by that 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,” Jennifer Van Hook, professor of sociology and demography at Penn State, said in the January issue of Sociology of Education.

Van Hook, who teamed up with university doctoral student Claire Altman, found in their study that there was no rise in the percentage of overweight students despite a significant increase in the amount of junk food sold at their schools. The study claims that childhood obesity actually decreased at these schools where junk food was prevalent, from 39.1 percent to 35.4 percent.

“Schools only represent a small portion of children’s food environment,” Van Hook said in a press release. “They can get food at home, they can get food in their neighborhoods and they can go across the street from the school to buy food.”

Van Hook says in the study that lawmakers should target messaging to younger children when fighting childhood obesity.

Another recent study by the Journal of American Medical Association found that one out of every six children were obese and one in three adults were overweight.

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