Food, Beverage Commercialism Still High In Schools

Most public elementary, middle and high school students are exposed to some kind of commercial marketing efforts at their schools, designed to increase sales of food and beverages or develop brand recognition and loyalty, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Medical Association Pediatrics.

ANN ARBOR, MichiganMost public elementary, middle and high school students are exposed to some kind of commercial marketing efforts at their schools, designed to increase sales of food and beverages or develop brand recognition and loyalty, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Medical Association Pediatrics.

University of Michigan and University of Illinois-Chicago researchers examined national trends in student in-school exposure to commercially marketed food and beverages from 2007 through 2012.

Researchers analyzed data from 2,445 elementary schools, 816 middle schools and 802 high schools nationwide. School administrators answered a series of questions designed to measure commercial activity related to food and beverages in the schools. Among the measures:

  • Whether schools or school districts receive incentives, such as cash awards or donations of equipment, supplies or other donations, once total beverage or food sales from an exclusive vendor exceed a specified amount.
  • Whether any company sells food or beverages in vending machines at school.
  • How much a school or school district profits from sales of food or beverages.

Although some commercialism measuresespecially those related to beverage vendinghave decreased significantly over time, most students at all academic levels continued to attend schools with one or more types of school-based commercialism in 2012. Overall, exposure to school-based commercialism increased significantly with grade level.

The researchers found that only about 3% of elementary school students attended schools with exclusive beverage contracts with a specific vendor in 2012. But nearly 50% of middle school students and nearly 70% of high school students attended schools with these exclusive contracts.

Nearly a quarter of middle school students and slightly more than half of high school students attended schools with food vending machines. And about 10% of elementary students, 18% of middle school students and 30% of high school students attended schools where fast food was available at least once a week.

However, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) is tightening snack regulations in the cafeteria marketplace as part of its new Smart Snacks in Schools standards to improve the nutritional quality of the snacks and drinks kids purchase on campus.

USDA now requires snack items to clock in at 200 calories or fewer per serving, and deliver no more than 230 mg of sodiuma quantity that drops to 200 mg on July 1, 2016. Total fat may account for no more than 35% of calories, with saturated fat making up less than 10% of that; trans fats aren't permitted at all. Also, any food item must be 50% whole grain, or have whole grain as the first ingredient. As for total sugars, their ceiling is set at 35% of the snack's weight.

Further, new labeling regulations for vending machines will require companies to display calorie information for food products, in an attempt to help consumersand in this case, studentsmake healthier choices. The legislation will go into effect early 2014, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) releases official guidelines.

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