Obama Administration Proposes Improvements to School Nutrition and Physical Activity

Limits Unhealthy Food Marketing in Schools


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the White House today proposed new rules limiting marketing for unhealthy foods in schools. School districts will only allow advertising and marketing for foods that meet the nutrition guidelines for foods that can be sold in schools through vending, a la carte, school stores, and elsewhere that compete with school meals.

The proposed new rules for school wellness policies also promote physical activity and make further improvements to school foods. Nutrition and physical activity wellness policies were first required under the leadership of Representative Boehner in 2004, when he was chair of the U.S. House of Representatives' Education and Workforce Committee. In 2010, through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, local wellness policies were updated to strengthen implementation, enhance community engagement, better inform parents about the policies, and provide schools with technical assistance.

"Given the high rates of childhood obesity and children's poor diets, it doesn't make sense to advertise and market unhealthy food to children at all, much less in schools," said Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Parents know from experience, and studies show, that food marketing affects kids' food preferences, food choices, and health."

In 2012, 70 percent of elementary and middle school students and 90 percent of high school students attended schools with in-school food marketing, most of which is for unhealthy food. According to the Federal Trade Commission, candy and snack food manufacturers, beverage companies, and fast-food restaurants are the heaviest marketers. Companies market to children in schools through posters, scoreboards, products promoted on the fronts of vending machines, promoting pizza by giving students coupons for reading books, commercials on in-school television programs, and branded educational materials and curricula.

Yet only 20 percent of school districts have food-marketing policies and less than 10 percent of states do. Although some companies have voluntarily agreed to limits on food marketing in schools through the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, CFBAI's school marketing guidelines exclude middle and high schools, and don't apply to many forms of marketing in elementary schools, including vending-machine exteriors, menu boards, display racks, branded food reward programs, branded materials for staff, and fundraisers.

The financial impact on schools of limiting food marketing should be minimal. A 2012 study by Public Citizen found that two-thirds of schools with advertising got no income at all from it, and less than half of one percent of schools earned more than $50,000 from school marketing. Under the new rule, schools could still allow food and beverage marketing for healthy foods.

"Local wellness policies are an important and low-cost approach for school districts to implement the national school lunch and Smart Snack guidelines, as well as address other school foods and physical activity," said Wootan.

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