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Rides Home Mean More Junk Food for Kids

Dorathy Gass

Do your kids get picked up after school for a ride home? Researchers believe this might affect how much more junk food they are consuming, opposed to kids who walk or ride their bike back from school. According to a new U.S. study conducted by Dr. Kristine Madsen at the University of California, Berkley School of Public Health, children who ride the bus, or get picked up by parents increase their chances of eating more sweets and processed snacks, while being transported home.

What is the reasoning behind the study? Dr. Madsen states, “Because in these younger kids, parents who are picking them up and taking them home are actually probably more likely to stop and get junk than kids who are on their own would.”

Published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study gathered surveys that spanned 24 hours and focused on the eating habits of fourth and fifth grade students. A total of 3,622 kids were surveyed from 44 elementary schools, located mostly in the urban areas of southern California. The questions asked the children how they got to and from school, and provided a list options that included: walking, biking, skating, scooters, as well as bus or car rides. After the surveys were processed, 23% of the children revealed they walked or rode their bike home, while 87% got picked up by either a bus, or a car.

Of those 87%, the results indicated that the morning drop off didn’t include excessive snacking, however, children who were picked up from school via car or bus consumed approximately 78 additional empty calories from unhealthy snack items purchased for their ‘after-school’ ride home. The issue may have more to do with what manufacturers provide in terms of healthy food options for on the go. As Madsen states, “My children love treats and I love to see them happy, and part of the issue is that what kids like is very much influenced by the advertising they see and what’s readily available.”

Sandra Arevalo, a registered dietitian and administrator of Nutrition Services for the Community Pediatrics Programs at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who was not involved in the study, claims that the issue might be regional, as there are different circumstances that occur in South Bronx.

“In our experience, as opposed to the results in the study, the children that walk to and from school have a higher intake of snacks and poor quality food than those children who are brought to and from school or after school programs by car by their parents,” Arevalo told Reuters Health in an email. “We have witnessed how kids that walk home spend their allowance at the bodegas buying candy, sweets, chips, sodas and other sugared beverages.”

Arevalo runs a nutrition education and fitness program for families in her community, and believes the cycle of reaching for quick processed snacks can be decreased by keeping families informed about the value of healthy eating practices.

“We talk to them about healthy food choices, reading nutrition facts labels, portion control, healthy food choices when eating out and healthier drinks, among others,” Arevalo noted.

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