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Food Politics

New Rules Limit Junk Food Marketing at Schools

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Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 2:20 PM
click to enlarge Some highly palatable selections from the National School Lunch program - USDA.GOV
  • USDA.gov
  • Some highly palatable selections from the National School Lunch program
Ads touting junk food and soda would be banned in schools under new rules announced Tuesday, Feb. 25, by the Obama administration. That means the scoreboards in high school gyms won't be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, but could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water. The same rules, which would be phased in, would apply to the fronts of vending machines, cups, posters and menu boards, the Associated Press reports. So not only is this stuff no longer sold at schools, it must be wiped from the very consciousness of the nation's youth.

Ninety-three percent of such marketing in schools is related to beverages. Many soda companies already have started to transition their sales and advertising in schools from sugary sodas and sports drinks to healthier products. (Allegedly healthier, anyway - there is a slew of scientific data that argues that diet sodas are worse for you than sugary soda. But that would just complicate matters and put the beverage companies in a huff.) Companies spend a whopping $149 million a year on marketing to kids in schools, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The proposed rules are part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative to combat childhood obesity, which marks its fourth anniversary this week. The First Lady and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new rules.

"The idea here is simple - our classrooms should be healthy places where kids aren't bombarded with ads for junk food," the First Lady said. "Because when parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn't be undone by unhealthy messages at school."

The rules also would allow more children access to free lunches, and come on the heels of USDA regulations that now require foods in school cafeterias to be healthier and more tear-inducing.

Rules that will take effect next school year will make other foods around schools healthier as well, including in vending machines and separate "a la carte" lines in the lunch room. Calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits will have to be met on almost every food and beverage sold during the school day at 100,000 schools.

Concessions sold at afterschool sports games would be exempt. Rules for school fundraisers, such as bake sales, would be left up to schools or states. (Save the brownies!) Off-campus fundraisers at places like fast-food restaurants still would be permitted. But posters advertising the fast food would not be allowed in school hallways - parents would be informed of the fundraisers in emails, so the little urchins wouldn't get too excited or tempted by direct knowledge of the possibility of a cheeseburger and fries.

If schools don't want to comply with the new marketing rules, they have to drop out of the National School Lunch Program, which allows them to collect government reimbursements for free and low-cost lunches for needy students in exchange for following "certain standards." There really is no free lunch!

The beverage industry actually says they're fine with the new rules. "Mrs. Obama's efforts to continue to strengthen school wellness make sense for the well-being of our schoolchildren," American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said, mindful of all of the lucrative "healthy" beverages for children.

The rules being proposed Tuesday would also allow the highest-poverty schools to serve lunch and breakfast to all students for free. According to the USDA and the White House, that would allow 9 million children in 22,000 schools to receive free lunches.

Sorry, kids. It's "yucky food" at school from here on out.


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