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Boston University statistician Mark Glickman said the study design makes it difficult to reach any convincing conclusions. It’s possible, for example, that stronger laws might be more prevalent in Democratic-leaning states with better-educated residents, and less obesity. But the study authors said they found stronger laws in states that had high levels of obesity.

The authors accounted for gender, race, income and school location.

Taber noted that several Southern states have been the most aggressive at targeting school junk food, “probably because they have the highest rates of obesity.”

Ludwig, the Boston obesity specialist, praised the researchers for trying to “tackle a complicated question.”

“The challenge is that there are a great many factors that coalesce to influence body weight,” Ludwig said. “Disentangling these influences and looking at the independent effects of just one is a methodological nightmare.”

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Online:

Pediatrics: http://www.pediatrics.org

USDA: http://1.usa.gov/z7t5md

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner