New Bill Asks: How Does Food Marketing in Schools Affect Kids?

July 07, 2009

By Amanda Chablani, HSC policy intern

As we gear up for Child Nutrition Act reauthorization later this year, we’re keeping a particularly close eye on any legislation that concerns nutrition, school and kids.  Recently, we spotted the Food Marketing in Schools Assessment Act, to be introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, which will require that the Secretary of Education, along with the Division of Adolescent and School Health and the Centers for Disease Control, study the effect of marketing foods and beverages in elementary and secondary schools.

Specifically, the bill calls for an assessment of the nutritional quality of the types of food being marketed to kids and the media (brands and logos on posters, book covers, school supplies, etc.) being used to deliver the messages, as well as an examination of any educational incentive programs, television, radio, newsprint, and even podcast marketing, or market research studies being conducted within school facilities.

If this bill passes, I can imagine what this report will find.  The variety of ways our kids are subjected to marketing in school (for instance, Channel One, a TV program broadcast to schools around the country and owned by a marketing company) is particularly insidious given that students are a captive audience. And, they are in their institution of learning where they are being taught skills, habits, and behaviors meant to last a lifetime. To paraphrase one parent advocate we work with: because schools hold a respected place in our culture, we assume that the messages coming from schools must be good ones.

But in reality, I don’t have to imagine what the report will find because California has already done the research [PDF]  and made clear recommendations to eliminate the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages at school.

In terms of national legislation, it is great to see progress in such an important area. While we all have a responsibility to teach our own kids how to make smart food choices, it is easy to forget that the food industry has a huge budget directed toward kids (the Center for Science in the Public Interest has a good summary of the issues here), and they make sure their voices are heard on the same important legislation we care so much about. We hope the additional data from this report will support any forthcoming effort to keep this kind of marketing out of schools.

P.S.:  Back in March, our own Jean Saunders blogged about the influence of food industry lobbyists on the upcoming school food program reauthorization. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the film clip she posted is a Who’s Who of participants in the upcoming debate on the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.