However, Cornell University research released in July suggests that schools may need to remove "trigger" foods from their menus as well. When super-sweet foods, such as applesauce or fruit cocktail, were offered as options, children were more likely to eat more cookies, ice cream and snack cakes, the researchers found. But if bananas and green beans were offered instead, children tended to make healthier meal choices.
In addition, though government rules on school meals have changed, about half of elementary schools still offer unrestricted access to unhealthy fare, such as soda, salty snacks and sweets, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Some schools, though, are working hard to reduce access to junk food. A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reported on one program that replaced food and beverage rewards in classrooms with small prizes. And, instead of bake sales and pizza parties, schools turned to healthy events like jog-a-thons as fund-raisers -- and made more money in the process, the study found.
Students in participating schools also reduced the amount of junk food they consumed by 30 percent, according to the study.
Attempts to limit access to junk food has spread beyond home and school, however. The Disney Corporation, for instance, said in June that it would now require advertisers to meet strict nutritional standards to be allowed to advertise on its television channels, radio stations and websites. In addition, Disney said it was significantly reducing the amount of sodium in the children's meals at Disney's amusement parks.
Perhaps one of the most controversial steps aimed at improving the diets of children (and adults) came recently from Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor. He proposed a ban on most sugary drinks, such as soda and fruit drinks, larger than 16 ounces that are sold in the city. According to the proposal, "with every additional sugary beverage a child drinks daily, his/her odds of becoming obese increase by 60 percent." In September, a city panel voted to implement the ban.
The U.S. government's "We Can" initiative has more on steps you can take at home to eat right.
Read more about "teaching gardens" here.
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