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Opinion: NJ students perform better in school when they avoid junk food

August 21, 2013 | Media Coverage

Originally published in The Times of Trenton on

Tough economic times often result in shrinking school budgets, which has led many schools to introduce or continue selling high-salt, high-sugar and high-caloric foods (i.e. junk food) and sugar-sweetened beverages in vending machines, school stores and in the cafeteria in order to increase or maintain food-service revenue.

Sadly, these unhealthy products in our state’s schools are part of a higher, long-term cost: childhood obesity and poor health. When schools sell unhealthy snacks and drinks, studies prove that students eat fewer fruits and vegetables, drink less milk at lunch and consume more calories and saturated fat over the course of the day.

It is clear that what goes in (junk) is what comes out. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics concludes sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to behavioral issues in children, including increased levels of aggression, withdrawal and decreased attention span.

We owe it to our children to provide smarter choices during this time in their lives when we have a greater influence and impact on their overall well-being.

A 2008 study of the impact of nutrition standards on school revenue found that in 86 percent of cases, improving nutrition standards did not result in lost revenue for schools, and often resulted in increased student participation in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.

Change may come at an initial cost, but the long-term prospects for success in child health and in school revenue are both proven to be promising and worthwhile. Many school districts across the country are finding that students will purchase and eat healthier food. Studies show that school districts are not likely to see a decline in revenue and in some cases may collect more money when students purchase full meals from the school meal program instead of snack foods. As noted in “More junk food concerns at schools” (Aug. 12), “most students spoke positively about eating healthier foods and predicted they will get used to the changes over time.”

I applaud the school administrators and food and nutrition departments that support measures to make children healthier and more productive in the classroom.

The effort to increase the health of our children should not fall squarely on the shoulders of school officials, but must be shared by parents, teachers and residents through school wellness councils, where education, information and solutions are shared, and children’s academic performance and health remain the focus.

Darrin Anderson, Ph.D., is deputy director of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and associate executive director of the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance.

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