HealthDay News — Exposure to strong state competitive food laws, which regulate the nutrition content of foods and drinks sold outside of federal school meal programs, during childhood is associated with lower BMI change, according to a study published online Aug. 13 in Pediatrics.

Daniel R. Taber, Ph.D., M.P.H., from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues examined the correlation between competitive food laws and adolescent weight gain. States with competitive food laws were identified and the laws were scored. Based on the law strength and comprehensiveness, states were classified as having strong, weak, or no competitive food laws in 2003 and 2006. In fifth and eighth grade, height and weight data were obtained from 6,300 students participating in the multi-state early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class.

The researchers found that students exposed to strong laws at baseline gained, on average, 0.25 fewer BMI units. Students in these states were also less likely to remain overweight or obese over time, compared to students in states with no laws. Students who were exposed to consistently strong laws throughout follow-up also gained fewer BMI units. Students exposed to weaker laws in 2006 than in 2003 had similar BMI gain as those students not exposed to laws in either year.

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“Laws that regulate competitive food nutrition content may reduce adolescent BMI change if they are comprehensive, contain strong language, and are enacted across grade levels,” the authors write.