Photo Credit: only-obey

Of the few things in my mind that I did not block out from junior high, the best one is probably the memory of the newfound freedom to buy milkshakes from the snack bar at lunch. They were almost like Wendy’s Frosties but twice the size and probably half the cost, served in a giant Styrofoam cup with a spoon, and much like the metallic blue eye shadow some of us would apply when we got to school in the morning, they were illicitly delicious.

Those milkshakes were the first thing I thought of when I read about a study from Pediatrics finding that middle school students were less likely to be obese if they live in states in which junk food sales in schools are regulated. (Okay, maybe my first thought was actually, “Duh,” but then I flashed back to the milkshakes.)

According to an AP report on the study, “In states with consistently strong laws in elementary and middle school, almost 39 percent of fifth-graders were overweight when the study began. That fell to 34 percent in eighth grade. Also, almost 21 percent of fifth-graders were obese, declining to about 18 percent in the eighth grade. In states with no relevant laws, almost 37 percent of fifth-graders were overweight and 21 percent were obese, and those numbers barely budged by eighth grade.”

Since 1980, the number of obese children in this country has jumped from 7% to 20%, and while I’m sure the chocolate milkshakes served in the cafeteria of my suburban junior high midway between 1980 and now did not help, I don’t know that the Pediatrics report is enough to suggest that eliminating junk food in schools is the best answer to our growing obesity problem.

The Illinois Board of Education, for instance, has had rules regulating the sale of food to students during the school day since 2006 but has nonetheless remained a state with a 10-14% obesity among high school students.

The real answer to the obesity problem is, of course, to teach our children to make the right food choices outside of school, as well as providing them with the tools and environment to learn to make the right choices in school. I knew, for instance, once the novelty of the milkshake wore off, that I should limit myself to one a week rather than having a milkshake accompany my packed lunch every day. The hard part is more likely to be modeling proper food choices for our kids.

In my own house there are three of us with one on the way. I spend the day trying to establish healthy eating habits in my eighteen-month-old, from the vegetable purees I made for him as a baby to the healthy afternoon snacks he now eats, all the while trying not to overindulge in portion sizes for all of us, especially struggling with the amount of cheese (just a little bit more!) I grate onto my whole wheat pasta primavera. Then my husband is home for the weekend and our son comes running at the sound of the Doritos bag between meals.

And all of this is in preparation for my son to one day be a middle schooler. The cafeteria may not sell junk food anymore, but there are about ten different places between our house and his future middle school that do; the trick will be making sure he knows to limit himself to one milkshake a week.


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