An article by Zosia Kmietowicz of the BMJ (British Medical Journal):
More evidence that the school environment influences children’s eating behaviour and weight has come from a Canadian study that found that the availability and consumption of sugar sweetened drinks in secondary schools is associated with higher rates of obesity in adolescents.
The study adds support for measures to tackle obesity to include a reduced intake of sugar. Earlier this month the World Health Organization recommended the average daily recommended intake of sugar should be halved to 5% or less of a person’s total energy consumption in an effort to reduce rates of obesity and dental caries (Gullard, 2014).
For the study, reported in the open access International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers from the University of British Columbia used data from the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey, which generated 11 385 completed questionnaires from 174 secondary school students (Masse et al, 2014). The respondents had an average age of 15 years and 12.7% were categorised as overweight and 3.9% obese.
Obese children were compared to normal weight students in relation to factors such as school setting, sex, availability of sugar sweetened drinks at school, and student consumption of sugar sweetened drinks.
The data showed that, overall, students were more likely to be obese if they attended schools where sugary drinks were available (odds ratio 1.5 (95% confidence interval 1.12 to 2.01); P=0.01) and who reported consuming more than one such drink in the previous day (odds ratio 1.66 (1.19 to 2.34); P=0.003).
Compared with students at urban schools, students were more likely to be obese if they attended suburban school (odds ratio 1.52 (1.35 to 2.23); P=0.04) and rural schools (odds ratio 1.89 (1.03 to 2.66); P=0.003). Girls were half as likely as boys to be obese (odds ratio 0.51 (0.40 to 0.64); P<0.001).
The researchers said that one of the limitations of their study was that all the measurements were based on self reported data, which may mask or dampen existing associations.
Louise Mâsse, associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health and lead author of the article, said: “The results of this study provide further evidence to support the important role of schools in shaping adolescents’ dietary habits. Availability of SSBs [sugar sweetened beverages] at school increased students’ consumption and they are more likely to be obese.
“Creating school environments that are more conducive to healthy eating and implementing a comprehensive approach that includes all of the environments in which adolescents spend their time, will likely provide the greatest benefit in supporting healthy food choices and healthy weights.”
Kmietowicz, Z. (2014) Sugary Drinks in Schools increase the Risk of Obesity in Adolescents, Study Finds. British Medical Journal. BMJ 2014;348:g2319.
Gulland A. Average Daily Consumption of Sugar must be Halved, Says WHO. BMJ 2014;348:g2003
Mâsse, L.C., de Niet-Fitzgerald, J.E., Watts, A.W., Naylor, P.T. & Saewyc, E.M. (2014) Associations between the School Food Environment, Student Consumption and Body Mass Index of Canadian Adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 11(29). doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-29