Posts Tagged ‘schools’

The tide is turning in the nationwide movement to end junk food commercialism in schools. That’s thanks in part to a campaign to address childhood obesity initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new rule which will limit unhealthy food marketing on school property during the school day, and the agency is seeking public comments on it.  The rule is part of the Local School Wellness Policy Implementation under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

On Friday, April 25, Public Citizen will submit detailed comments, and summary comments endorsed by thousands of supporters, urging the USDA to provide the strongest and broadest possible protections for students. We anticipate that our comments will be taken seriously since our School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenue report was cited directly in the proposed rule.

In 2009, junk food companies spent $149 million on marketing in our schools — with ads for sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi accounting for 90 percent. And the marketing seems to be having some effect: In 2012, more than one- third of children and adolescents struggled with the health effects of being overweight or obese.

While the proposed rule is an important step forward, it has some potential loopholes. For example, the USDA should include a provision that urges schools to eliminate advertising of all brands that market unhealthy food, not just specific unhealthy products. Schools should also be provided the freedom to eliminate all food marketing, in order to streamline the process of monitoring brand and product compliance with the USDA’s Smart Snacks guidelines.

The USDA should also include a more expansive definition of food marketing to cover the range of tactics used by food and beverage companies.  Public Citizen and allies are encouraging the USDA to provide guidance to schools on the various types of marketing including, but not limited to posters, curricula, websites promoted for educational purposes or recommended by the school (ex. coolmathgames.com), vending machine exteriors, food or beverage cups or containers, equipment, uniforms, school supplies, in-school television (such as Channel One) and on computer screen savers and/or school-sponsored Internet sites. Additionally, branded fundraisers and corporate-sponsored programs (ex. McTeacher’s night), corporate incentive programs that provide children with free or discounted foods or beverages (ex. Pizza Hut Book It! Program), free samples and naming rights to school property.

Research suggests that commercialism in schools generally poses a threat to children’s psychological health, in addition to threats to physical health.  Children exposed to advertising suffer displacement of values and activities other than those consistent with materialism  and heightened insecurity about themselves and their place in the social world among other issues.  Commercial messaging in education compounds the overall effects of children’s exposure to ubiquitous commercialism while undermining students’ capacities to think creatively, critically and independently in school.

Public Citizen maintains that no commercial marketing or advertising should be present in the education context given its demonstrated harms to children’s physical and psychological health. But since the USDA can address only unhealthy food marketing in this proposed rule, Public Citizen will urge the agency to make its rule on food marketing as strong as possible.

We encourage citizens to endorse our summary comments to the USDA by Friday, April 25. Supporters should also sign our petition to keep commercialism out schools entirely.

Eva Seidelman is a researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

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Breakfast cereals equivalent in nutritional value to Twinkies are heavily marketed to children using cartoon mascots and online “advergames.” Schools display advertisements for everything from fast food to the U.S. Army on every available surface, from lockers to flat-screen televisions in cafeterias to report cards. Corporations hire student “brand ambassadors” on college campuses to subtly push their product on classmates and friends. Public art galleries, subway stops, and roadways are named for the highest corporate bidder. Historic bridges and parks are draped with advertisements. Infant formula makers market their products in doctors’ offices and hospitals.Photo by Christopher Chan, Flickr

These examples are all evidence of the rapidly growing space that commercial culture has come to occupy within our society. As large a space as they may already inhabit in our lives, corporations are seeking still more facets of our society that can be put up “for sale,” never mind the higher values that get trampled in the process – values like family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy. That’s why Commercial Alert, a project of Public Citizen, has no shortage of work to do.

Ralph Nader and Gary Ruskin founded Commercial Alert in 1998, seeking to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere. Since then, Commercial Alert has fought to lay down boundaries that preserve crucial spaces in our culture as commercial-free. Commercial Alert has stood up for children’s rights to be free of commercialism in schools, parks, libraries, and other public spaces. We’ve demanded that government be a vehicle for democracy, not commercial advertising, fighting back against plans to advertise on government vehicles, history-laden bridges and buildings, and in cultural institutions. We’ve decried the number one public health disaster of our times – marketing-related diseases, including obesity, smoking-related illnesses, diabetes, and many more.

Despite successes along the way, the fight is far from over. As those intent on putting everything and everyone up for sale wage their war on our culture, Commercial Alert continues to resist the spread of commercial culture – now as an important part of Public Citizen. We’re confident that supporters of Public Citizen will find that Commercial Alert’s upcoming campaigns address crucial issues that are important to them – issues that fit well with Public Citizen’s historic concerns about unchecked corporate power and consumer protection. And supporters of Commercial Alert who have been eagerly awaiting our return to action after a brief hiatus will be excited to see the powerful connections between Public Citizen’s work and Commercial Alert’s goals, connections that will enable us to combat excessive commercial culture even more effectively.

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Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project monitors the spread of commercial culture, fighting back against its expansion into evermore spheres of our lives. As we track tales of governors selling naming rights to highways and bridges and online games pushing junk food on children, a perennial story we encounter is that of increasing commercialism in our public schools. Not a week goes by without at least a handful of stories of school districts selling students short by allowing (or considering allowing) advertising on their campuses, whether on lockers, school buses, cafeteria trays and menus, sports fields, or right in the classroom.

With massive state budget cuts, school districts are facing tough times – there’s no doubt about it. So when they claim that allowing school advertising will help them manage their budget shortfalls, many parents and community members believe that, distasteful as advertising to kids may be, such measures might just be worth it. But is it? Our just-released report, School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenues, debunks these claims, highlighting the miniscule revenue that these programs actually bring in.

How much money are school districts bringing in? Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh-largest in the country, has a total budget of $1.58 billion for 2011-2012. In 2010-2011, HISD raised only $62,250 from a combination of signage, scoreboards and school bus advertising. That’s less than 0.01 percent of its budget – and a far cry from the $100 million in cuts the district faced last year.  Also in Houston, Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, the eleventh-largest district in the country, raised only 0.03 percent of its annual budget through in-school advertising. And in Florida, Orange County Public Schools has allowed advertising from Pizza Hut, the U.S. Army, Buffalo Wild Wings and other, raising just 0.02 percent of its annual operating budget.

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