ELK GROVE, CA - A new University of Illinois study is suggesting California's policies that ban junk food in school cafeterias are influencing teenagers' eating habits.
It's been five years since the crackdown, and researchers found high school students are eating an average of 160 calories fewer calories a day than kids in other states, a trend that could help reverse obesity trends.
They're also eating less fat and sugars. The study's author also noted the findings are encouraging for the Hispanic community, considering the high prevalence of obesity among Latino youth.
"Studies are really showing that we sort of stopped the growth in the obesity epidemic . . . that it's leveled off and hopefully these kids are taking a stronger interest in nutrition and their health," Student Nutrition Specialist Anne Gaffney, R.D., said.
Like at Elk Grove High School, California campuses don't sell sodas, unhealthy snacks and fried foods.
You'll find fruits and vegetables, French fries that are baked and whole grains. Schools have even gotten rid of salt packets.
"At first, I was kind of upset because I like salt. But it's helping me eat a lot better," High School Senior Diana Nagtalon said. "And that's what I actually want to do."
Senior Alexander Lunbang believes he'd actually be heavier today if junk food was readily available at school.
"These shorts would be a larger size. This shirt," Lunbang said. "I do feel like I would be heavier."
It seems like 160 fewer calories a day isn't be much, it's like a small bag of chips. But researchers said most children could avoid significant long-term weight gain by simply cutting out 100 to 200 extra calories a day.
But, students do bring junk food from home and they consume only 25 percent of their calories at school.
Assem. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who's also a pediatrician, said more needs to be done.
"We've just show that in the school, we've created an environment where kids will take fewer calories," Pan said. "We can now use this information and to talk to parents about how do we create the environment at home."
The study's author also noted the findings are encouraging for the Hispanic community, considering the high prevalence of obesity among Latino youth.