#DitchTheJunk: junk food marketing in schools

Voices for Healthy Kids

March 30, 2016
in Junk Food Marketing

Parents, teachers, and school officials work hard to help kids eat healthier and more nutritious foods — be it at home or in the school cafeteria. But that hard work often turns into frustration when the efforts to create good eating habits run up against pervasive marketing by the junk food and sugary drink industries.  It becomes even more frustrating when the marketing is taking place in the very institutions that are working to create those better eating habits.  Nowhere does that occur more often than in schools.

Posters advertising soda and fast food are often hung up in hallways and on bulletin boards. Coupons for junk food, such as high-fat pizza, are commonly given out as rewards.  Fundraising efforts for school trips and athletic programs frequently use unhealthy beverages, candy, and sweets, such as cookies, as the fundraising tool. All of this occurs during and after the school day in the same institutions that have implemented policies increasing the number of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and limiting unhealthy options in their school lunch, breakfast, and snack programs.

The undercutting effect of these mixed messages is why Voices for Healthy Kids is engaged at the state level, supporting efforts to reduce the influence of the junk food and sugary drink industries in schools. A case in point is the support we have given to health advocates in Nevada to stop the marketing of junk food directed at kids in Nevada schools. Their hard work led to the adoption of a statewide policy that is now beginning to be implemented and requires not only that all food sold to Nevada students in school during the school day must meet federal “Smart Snacks” nutrition standards, but also that all food marketed in schools must also be consistent with those standards. That means no posters, coupons, or fundraising efforts promoting unhealthy beverages, candy, or high-fat pizza can appear in the schools.

The policy creates a twofer in the healthy-eating realm. It helps eliminate access to junk foods in school as well as the marketing of those products. It also supports consistent messaging. In other words, the message of the importance and benefits of eating healthy foods in the school cafeteria is backed up with messaging in the halls and fundraising practices both during and after school. Very simply: if a product can’t be sold at school, it won’t be marketed there either.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture, which oversees the policy, designed it so that it allows schools and school districts to implement it in ways that work best for them. They also are helping schools transition to the new policy – which is statewide and establishes a floor, allowing schools to implement policies that may be stricter.

The important work in Nevada has spread elsewhere. Advocates in Connecticut are working to pass statewide legislation that eliminates marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages in schools. In addition, advocates in New Hampshire are striving to pass a bill this legislative session to have that state’s Department of Education create a policy prohibiting marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to students on school property.

Voices for Healthy Kids believes it’s critically important to use schools not only as venues and opportunities to make sure our nation’s children have access to healthy foods, but also as places where youth can learn lifelong, beneficial skills. One of those skills is understanding the benefits of adopting healthy-eating practices day in and day out. Eliminating junk food and sugary drink marketing campaigns in schools will help to reinforce that understanding. It will also support the important role that schools and parents are playing to make sure that healthy school environments are the norm and not the exception across the United States.

Need resources to help eliminate junk food marketing in your schools? Request our toolkit.