January 14, 2014
Citing evidence that shows that food and beverage marketing in schools is a public health concern, Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA from the Rudd Center and Tracy Fox, MPH, RD, from Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC, urge policy makers, school district leaders, and parents to take action in a recent editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics.
In their editorial, the authors comment on a paper by Terry-McElrath and colleagues in the same issue, which quantifies food marketing in a national sample of schools and measures changes over a six-year period. They assert that the paper highlights some surprising and disturbing trends but also understates the overall picture.
Harris and Fox cite evidence that the full range of in-school marketing practices is even broader than reported and includes initiatives like branded fundraising sponsored by food companies, visits by Ronald McDonald to elementary schools to teach children about healthy eating, and ads on educational websites such as coolmath-games.comand Channel One TV.
Rudd Center research shows that the majority of parents support regulations to limit advertising and sponsorships of unhealthy foods and beverages in schools. School officials also support such regulations. However, most efforts to reduce unhealthy food marketing in schools rely upon industry self-regulation, which has limitations, according to the authors.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently established strong nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages available in schools but the USDA regulation does not address food marketing.
“Policy makers, school district leaders, and parents should take action to ensure that the entire food and nutrition environment in schools promotes students’ health and well-being,” say the authors. “School property should be a place where messages to young people strengthen their bodies as well as their minds.”
The Rudd Center’s parent advocate website, Rudd 'Roots Parents, provides parents with easy-to-use tools, information, and research to help navigate and change the food marketing environment.