Sunny Delight Urged to Pull the Plug on In-School Drink Marketing
Pizza Hut, Amazon Also Engage in School-Related Junk-Food Promotion, Says Watchdog Group
Sunny Delight has been asked to discontinue a program that encourages parents, teachers, and students to collect 20 labels for Sunny D in exchange for 20 unspecified books. The Center for Science in the Public Interest told Sunny Delight president and CEO Billy Cyr that the company’s Book Spree program encourages families to consume a drink that promotes diabetes, weight gain, and other health problems. A 16-ounce bottle of Sunny D Tangy Original has almost seven teaspoons of sugar but is only five percent juice. Besides corn syrup, it includes the artificial sweeteners sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and neotame; the controversial dyes Yellow 5 and Yellow 6; and other ingredients.
“You shouldn’t subject kids to a sugar spree to get them to enjoy a book spree,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “Make no mistake—this is not an act of philanthropy on the part of Sunny Delight. These books aren’t ‘free,’ as described. They come at both a financial cost and a cost to children’s health.”
Thanks to new Smart Snack standards being implemented in schools starting this academic year, it is no longer permissible to sell sugary drinks like Sunny Delight in vending machines or elsewhere on campus. A separate rule requires school districts to implement policies for reducing junk-food marketing as part of their local wellness policies that are consistent with the Smart Snack standards. In other words, if you can’t sell it in schools, you shouldn’t be able to market it in schools.
The Sunny Delight Book Spree program is one of several school-related junk-food marketing programs that CSPI urged be stopped. Pizza Hut runs its own in-school program, BOOK IT!, which offers children coupons for free pizzas in exchange for reading books.
“Kids who read their heart out and earn a Reading Award Certificate for a free, one-topping Personal Pan Pizza will receive an official Passport to Reading when they visit Pizza Hut,” according to the program’s materials. But CSPI says that using food as a reward cultivates unhealthy eating habits, especially when the food in question is of poor nutritional value. A pepperoni Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut has 620 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat, and 1,540 milligrams of sodium, exceeding the Smart Snack nutrition criteria for all three of those categories.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is among those being asked to rein-in school-related junk-food marketing. Amazon is offering 20 percent “Back to School Savings” on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Country Time Lemonade, Barnum’s Animal Crackers, Mini Oreo cookies, Nutter Butter Bites, Coca Cola, Pop-Tarts, and other low-nutrition foods.
Jeff Bezos, junk-food magnate: Amazon offers sharp “Back to School” discounts on a variety of high-sugar, high-salt, low-nutrition snack foods “for lunchboxes.”
“Think of all the good Amazon could do if it used its sophisticated targeting tools to put healthy choices in front of America’s kids and families,” Wootan said. “Instead, Amazon is marketing junk food. Doing that is tawdry, crass, and undermines children’s health.”
CSPI urged all three companies to set nutrition standards for foods it markets in school-related contexts. The group said that companies like Sunny Delight and Pizza Hut could indicate their sincerity about protecting children by joining a self-regulatory program administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).