Getting Rid of Junk Food: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Nutrition: Health


A study published in the Health Education & Behavior journal looked at six middle schools over a two year period. In three of these schools the snacks offered did not change, but did so in the other three schools in Connecticut. Snacks that did not meet the nutrition standards set were removed and replaced with water, 100 percent fruit juice, baked chips, pretzels, granola bars and canned fruits.

The train of thought was that when these "junky" items disappeared from the schools, the kids would naturally miss them and then go home and eat more. However, the result was actually the reverse -- the study showed that when pop and fatty snacks were taken out of schools, the kids did not make up for them at home. Instead, they ate no worse at home and even better at school.

This study makes me think of the countless families I work with where I suggest removing "forbidden food" from the house. It is not until the item is "out of sight" that is it really "out of mind." If you want to steal some chocolate chips in your baking cupboard and realize your dish is empty, what do you do? You probably go and grab some crackers or fruit instead.

More on school snack foods, after the jump...

Not all Canadian schools have fully implemented the steps of removing junk food and pop from vending machines. CTV reported that in January 2004, the soft drink industry's plan was to voluntarily withdraw carbonated pop from Canadian elementary schools over the next school year. Pepsi and Coke had it in their plans to stock the machines with their own personal brands of fruit drinks, water and sports drinks. This plan doesn't solve the problem entirely, but it truly is a step in the right direction. Elementary and high schools in B.C. were working to have it all gone by 2009, but as they are finding, such a big change cannot happen overnight. Removing the chips, chocolate bars and pop requires more complicated steps than one would think. While it may be easy to remove a vending machine, it is not as easy to change over a cafeteria, where money is to be made.

As a parent, the best thing you can do is get to know what food items are being served or boxed in a machine at your child's school. When multiple parents show concern to a school board, change can start to happen. Let your voice be heard. And at home, continue to pack healthy -- but fun -- snack items in your child's lunch.

Karla Heintz (BSc) is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.