Scoreboards with signs touting Coke, Pepsi or the local pizza place may become historical relics. Under rules proposed today, ads marketing junk food in schools are being banned as part of the effort to curb childhood obesity. The idea may be simple, but execution will be tough in many schools.
The proposed rules laid out announced today by first lady Michelle Obama restrict marketing of junk foods and sugary drinks on school campuses. The restrictions from the White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture ban promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks as part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity.
The idea is that classrooms should be healthy places, not ones where kids are bombarded with junk food ads, according to the first lady. She also emphasized that kids who are taught healthy habits at home should not get unhealthy messages at school.
The advertising rules follow USDA regulations about foods offered on campuses. California banned junk food and sodas from public schools in 2005 and Connecticut did the following year, but most states did not follow suit. Now, the federal government has stepped in with requirements that foods offered in school cafeterias be healthier. The restrictions also include vending machines and any other options sold in the lunchroom. There are new limits on calorie, fat, sugar and sodium content in foods and beverages sold in school. However, after-school sporting event concessions will be exempt.
Those who have not been on a campus lately may not be aware how extensive the marketing of drinks and other products is. Approximately $149 million is spent on school drink marketing each year, according to the USDA. Ads appear on scoreboards, vending machines, programs and publications, and fundraising signs hanging outside. Ninety-three percent of the school marketing is related to sodas and sport drinks. There is also heavy marketing of candy, snack foods, and near-by fast-food restaurants.
The proposed junk food ads restriction does not expecting schools to replace scoreboards right way and acknowledges that other situations present issues, such as whether promoting the school fundraising candy drive is now banned too. The USDA plans to allow schools to determine what constitutes advertising, but is also garnering feedback on national initiatives. For example, Pizza Hut has a “Book It” program that rewards kids who read a certain number of books with pizza coupons. The Pizza Hut program is advertised in school materials and on campuses. That is one program still being discussed.
Rules for school fundraisers that do not promote specific brands, like bake sales, are being left up to local jurisdictions or individual schools. Off-campus fundraisers at local fast-food outlets and such would still be allowed, but advertising promoting the food may be forbidden in schools. Promotion may be limited to parental emails so the marketing reaches parents not children. It is not clear whether local businesses that serve junk food, such as ice cream, would still be able to purchase banner signs that hang outside many schools as fundraising vehicles either.
The most expensive aspect for schools to implement would be replacing scoreboards and other built-in advertising that may exist. The proposed rules allow that current advertising to remain until it is replaced. If possible, that part of the scoreboard could be switched out to promote something less sugary, like Diet Coke.
The beverage industry is reportedly on board with the rules. Changing school signage to promote healthier drinks is a logical next step as part of the Obama school wellness campaign according to a statement from Susan Neely, American Beverage Association President and CEO.
Advertising isn’t going away completely – businesses can still advertise low-calorie or healthy products to students. However, with junk food ads being banned, the days of seeing the Coke logo on scoreboards in schools may be over.
By Dyanne Weiss