Food Industry Seeks to Maintain Junk-Food Marketing in Schools

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Food Industry Seeks to Maintain Junk-Food Marketing in Schools

Bill Introduced Today Seeks Thorough Study of School-Based Marketing

WASHINGTON - Despite rising public concern over childhood obesity, food
companies, through an industry-funded self-regulatory group, have
proposed a set of "principles" by which the companies can use a variety
of approaches to market junk food to children in schools. The nonprofit
Center for Science in the Public Interest
today urged the industry group to go back to the chalk board and
consider whether Ronald McDonald truly belongs in the classroom. Also
today, a bill introduced in Congress would require the Department of
Education to conduct a thorough assessment of school-based food
marketing.

The industry document at issue is a "Fact Sheet on the Elementary School Advertising Principles"
released by the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative,
which is funded by industry and administered by the Council of Better
Business Bureaus.

Members of the initiative include Burger King, Coca-Cola,
General Mills, Hershey Company, McDonald's, Campbell Soup Company, and
other major food companies. The fact sheet begins with an introduction
stating that the member "companies agree that they will not advertise
any food or beverage in elementary schools," and lists coupons, food
samples, posters, and book covers among several other forms of
prohibited advertising. That sounds promising, but the document then
spends much of the following 10 pages describing what food marketing it
does not include, such as marketing on vending machine exteriors,
label-collection programs, branded display racks, tray liners that
promote food sold in schools, and menu boards, many of the techniques
that are used most widely in schools.

The self-regulatory scheme also allows companies to sponsor
curricula, other educational materials, and public service
announcements. "Spokescharacters" like Ronald McDonald or Tony the
Tiger are allowed, as is the sale—by students—of low-nutrition foods in
fundraisers. It even omits the most common form of in-school marketing:
the sale of the food itself. Although some of the CFBAI-participating
companies have pledged to address school food sales through an
agreement with the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association,
the majority of companies have not.

In a letter to Elaine Kolish,
the initiative’s director, CSPI also expressed concern that the
guidelines only cover elementary schools (K-6). At the very least, the
guidelines should cover middle schools, where the average 6th grader is
11 years old. Nor do the guidelines apply during after-school
activities.

"These principles are a sham, written more to protect the
commercial needs of food marketers than the health of children," said
CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "It's bad enough that junk food
is still available for kids to buy in schools. But who wants their son
or daughter to be enlisted in an unpaid, drone army actually selling
junk food?"

Pizza Hut's Book It! Program
is an example of an in-school marketing program that is allowed under
the principles outlined in the industry fact sheet, since the Pizza Hut
logo is small compared to other text on the materials. Logo aside, it
is the prospect of free Pizza Hut pizza that really captures children's
attention. (Yum! Brands [Pizza Hut’s parent company], Chuck E.
Cheese's, Topps Candy, and a number of other major marketers to
children have not joined the self-regulatory program.)

"Schools should teach the joys of reading," said Wootan.
"Programs like Pizza Hut's turn reading into a commercial proposition
that, unfortunately, ends up promoting obesity and disease in
children." Experts warn against using food as a reward, which can
instill in children lifetime habits of rewarding or comforting
themselves with unhealthy food behaviors.

CSPI says that without a substantial expansion of the
marketing principles the food industry's self-regulatory system won’t
adequately protect kids’ health.

"With a new Administration, a re-animated Federal Trade
Commission, and more city and state governments interested in
aggressively tackling the problem of childhood obesity, we’re likely to
see reforms that far surpass what the industry is willing to do
voluntarily," Wootan said.

The legislation introduced today, sponsored by
Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Todd Platt (R-PA), would
require the U.S. Department of Education, along with the Division of
Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, to assess the nutritional quality of foods available in
schools and the forms of food marketing in schools. The legislation is
supported by a broad coalition
of national and state health groups, including the American Academy of
Pediatrics, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart
Association, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the
Trust for America’s Health.

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Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.

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