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Students Prefer Fats to Fruits

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ATLANTA - Students in schools that sell high-fat foods in the lunchroom eat fewer fruits and vegetables than students in schools without those foods, according to a new study.

At middle schools where cafeterias sold fatty a la carte foods such as pizza as well as a nutritionally balanced lunch, students consumed more fat and nearly a serving a day less of fruits and vegetables, according to a study published Monday in the American Journal of Public Health. The study of 16 schools in Minneapolish-St. Paul also found that children ate less fruit if their campus had snack vending machines.

"The eating habits that children and young people develop will influence their eating pattern as adults," said study author Martha Kubik, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's school of nursing. "Establishing a pattern where you choose high-fat foods and sweetened drinks can come back to haunt you as an adult."

In the Minnesota study, students' average daily fruit consumption dropped by 11 percent for each snack machine in a school, Kubik said.

Public health workers, alarmed at the rapid increase in childhood obesity and diabetes, are working to promote healthier eating at home, in schools and in restaurants. Some school districts have responded by limiting students' access to high-fat, sugary foods. The New York City school district last week announced that it was banning sugary drinks and candy from vending machines and imposing standards more stringent than federal ones to reduce fat in cafeteria lunches.

In metro Atlanta, many school districts rely on vending machines to fund extras such as band uniforms, and a la carte sales of fatty foods like chicken fingers and french fries to help cover costs of the school lunch program.

To encourage students to make healthier food choices, the study authors recommend policy changes and also charging less for healthy snacks than for fatty or sugary foods. Engaging parents, teachers, administrators and food service workers in regular discussions about the school food environment is important, Kubik said.

Elizabeth Lee writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail:

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