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Bans on school junk food slims students down, study finds

Bans on school junk food work. That’s the takeaway from a new study out of the University of New Brunswick.

Cutting out snacks like chips and candy bars in schools is one step on the path to healthier living for students that should not be underestimated.

Someone with the research to back up this claim is Philip Leonard, who is with the University of New Brunswick’s economics department, and a health economist at UNB’s New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training.

Leonard recently finished a study entitled “Do School Junk Food Bans Improve Student Health?”

Bans on school junk food associated with lower BMI…

“I found that each year of a junk food ban associated with a decline of about 0.05 BMI in students,” said Leonard. “Students exposed to five or more years of a junk food ban had a lower BMI, corresponding with a decrease of about two pounds for an individual five foot, six inches tall.”

In the last 12 years, six provinces, led by the New Brunswick government, undertook, “a ban of all food from the minimum nutrition list in October of 2005 under Policy 711 issued by the Department of Education,” says the UNB article.

Implemented bans on junk food sales on school property were done in an effort to reduce child health issues, such as obesity.

The other included provinces are Prince Edward Island in 2005, Nova Scotia and Quebec in 2007, British Columbia in 2008, and Ontario in 2011.

For this study, Leonard used data from cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey, which is a nationally-representative survey that, on an annual basis, collects health-related information, such as self-reported weight and height for 65,000 Canadians ages 12 and older.

Research methods utilized the Body Mass Index (BMI) for Canadians between the ages of 12 and 26. The health survey data, which was divided by province, health region, and age, provided Leonard with 22,000 eligible youths that were unable to purchase junk food at school.

The research also revealed the ban seemed to have a bigger impact on females. Furthermore, younger individuals seemed to see greater health benefits, possibly due to the fact that they are less likely to leave school grounds to buy junk food somewhere else.

Similarly with a multitude of nations, Canada is experiencing a vast increase in obesity over the last few decades.

From the late 1970s until 2004, “the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity among those aged two to 17 years increased from 15 per cent to 26 per cent.2 Increases were highest among youth, aged 12 to 17 years, with overweight and obesity more than doubling for this age group, from 14 per cent to 29 per cent.”

Obesity is difficult to reverse, and can lead to health risks like diabetes and heart disease, and death occurring three to seven years earlier than someone at a healthy weight.

Leonard said that while the results of the study provide great insight to how much a difference cutting out junk food in schools can have on students’ health, the ban itself will not suffice in overturning the country’s steadily increasing obesity rates, meaning more food policies would need to come into effect.

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