Home is where the junk food is

New research found most food students, parents and teachers bring onto school campuses is unhealthy.

The new research, led by Kaiser Permanente researcher Karen J. Coleman, found nearly 80 percent of all food and drinks brought to elementary and middle schools were unhealthy. Examples include high-sugar snacks, baked goods, energy and snack bars, beverages with added sugar and chips or crackers.

The researchers also learned only 14 percent of all items were healthful (fruits, vegetables and 100 percent water).

None of the schools studied had outside food vendors or vending machines on premises, so the only sources of the unhealthy food were students, parents, teachers and other school staff, Coleman said in an interview on a Kaiser blog.

Coleman said she was surprised by the frequency in which kids are exposed to junk food.

“I think that people greatly underestimate the amount of junk food present on school campuses and at special occasions, like end-of-the-month celebrations, birthday parties, and holiday festivities. There are also school-wide assemblies and fundraisers, parent and teacher nights, and many other events where organizers serve junk food,” she said. “All of the unhealthy foods and beverages served at these events adds up over time.”

“People often think about this as happening every once in a while but in reality, it happens a lot more often,” Coleman added.

The research was part of a Kaiser led Healthy Options for Nutrition Environments in Schools (Healthy ONES) project that worked to change nutrition environments and policies at eight elementary and middle schools in San Diego, Calif., for a three-year period (2007-10).

As part of the project, researchers worked with teachers in the schools to change their habits of using unhealthy foods and drinks as rewards.

Now, instead of candy bars and soda, students are rewarded with stickers, pens or certificates for quality time with the teacher, Coleman said.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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