In an interview with ABC News, CDC spokeswoman Holly Hunt said that the percentage of school districts that ban junk foods that are high in salt, sugar, and fat — such as cookies and other sweet snacks — from being stocked in vending machines ballooned from 29.8 percent to 43.4 percent of all districts over the last six years.
The number of elementary schools requiring young children to participate in physical education programs has steadily increased over the last decade, too — from 86.2 percent of all elementary schools in 2000 to 93.6 percent of all schools in 2012. Over half of these schools expand their physical education programs by partnering with local groups like the YMCA in order to use their recreational facilities for after-school programs.
The encouraging results might help explain why the CDC found a significant decrease in poor children’s childhood obesity rate for the first time in history earlier in August. Those reports found that the obesity rate for poor children fell in 18 states and the Virgin Islands between 2008 and 2011, while a similar analysis from 2009 saw 24 states see their low-income childhood obesity rates rise. Public health advocates lauded the turnaround, saying that lower obesity rates early on in childhood dramatically lower a person’s chances of being obese as an adult.
Although school nutrition and physical education programs aren’t the only possible sources for the decline — increased rates of breastfeeding among low-income women may also be helping curb obesity — local experiences suggest those policies play an important part in the fight against childhood obesity. Mississippi saw its childhood obesity rate plummet by 13 percent in just five years after passing aggressive new nutrition standards like the ones the CDC says are being embraced across the country.
The trend could continue as new federal regulations for school lunches and vending machines start taking full effect for the 2014-2015 school year. Under the new rules, school cafeterias and vending machines can only offer products include those that are primarily made up of fruits, vegetables, protein, or dairy (such as meat, poultry, eggs, and nuts) or contain at least 50 percent whole grains. There are also caps on the amount of calories in a food that can come from sweetening additives, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, as well as an outright ban on soda.