As a mom of two little ones, I'm doing all I can to keep them happy and healthy. I try to cook fresh and healthy meals. I buy natural and organic products when I can. And I try to model good behavior. It's definitely not easy. I like sweets (a lot). I'm often too tired to argue over which snacks to purchase when we stop for gas or milk. And at the end of the day it's often hard to imagine cooking at all, let alone preparing a full and healthy meal. But I try. We all try. Parents are magical and powerful because we seem to find energy even when we're at our most exhausted.
I've clearly got a lot going on. And I need all the help I can get.
I'm a big supporter of the updated school meal nutrition standards, which went into effect at the start of the 2012 school year. On July 1st, the companion Smart Snacks standards will roll out, setting limits for sugar, fat, and salt in the foods and beverages sold outside of school meals, usually in vending machines and à la carte lines. These standards for meals and snacks are intended to ensure that foods and beverages offered at school are healthy. Both moves mean a lot to me. I need to know schools have my back.
But although the meals and snacks schools serve and sell are getting healthier, kids are still exposed to unhealthy food and beverage ads in school. These ads appear in all kinds of overt and subtle ways throughout the school environment: on vending machines, in school publications, and on school-sponsored Internet sites, as well as via free samples and branded fundraisers. Gross, right? It's big business too -- in 2009 companies spent $149 million on in-school advertising.
That's why I'm so excited about the wellness policy updates proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among other provisions, they'll actually curb junk food advertising in schools, which should be one of our most trusted and safest environments. They'll help schools address the full range of food marketing in schools, including marketing and advertising through:
- signs, scoreboards, or posters;
- curricula, textbooks, or other educational materials;
- vending machine exteriors, food or beverage cups or containers, food display racks, coolers;
- equipment, uniforms, or school supplies (ex. pencils, notebooks, textbook covers);
- advertisements in school publications, during announcements on the public announcement (PA) system, on school radio stations, in-school television (such as Channel One), computer screen savers, and/or school-sponsored Internet sites;
- branded fundraisers and corporate-sponsored programs that encourage students and/or their families to sell, purchase, or consume products, and/or provide funds to schools in exchange for consumer purchases of those products (ex. McTeacher's night, Labels for Education, Box Tops for Education);
- corporate incentive programs that reward or provide children with free or discounted foods or beverages (ex. Pizza Hut Book It! Program);
- sponsorship of materials, programs, events, or teams;
- market research activities;
- corporate-sponsored scholarships; and
- free samples, taste-tests, or coupons.
Yes, that's a ton of advertising! The proposed update sets a simple standard for all of this: If a food or beverage can't be sold in school, it shouldn't be marketed there either.
Food marketing in schools is a complex and entrenched practice. USDA should also help schools figure out how to address brand advertising in general. Brand advertising features general brand depictions, such as brand logos, product line logos, or spokescharacters, in the absence of a focus on a specific product (for example, showing the company brand on a sign at a sponsored event, on a scoreboard, or on a soccer uniform). If a brand is marketed rather than a specific product, then all the products within the marketed brand or product line should meet the Smart Snack guidelines.
As parents, let's come together and raise our voices to say that the new wellness policies make a ton of sense. They're an important next step for keeping schools, and our kids, healthy. Join me in asking schools to have our back, and get rid of junk food ads! Add your voice here.