Fast food coupons used as prizes, candy sale fundraisers, vending machine exteriors — these are just a few examples of the kinds of junk food marketing that regularly takes place in U.S. schools, and such advertising is taking a toll on children’s health, say experts.
“Fortunately, significant progress has been made nationwide to provide nutritious meals and snacks in cafeterias, vending machines and school stores. However, continued marketing of junk food at school can undermine these improvements. Over time, those messages being marketed shape children’s food preferences, purchase requests, diets and overall health,” says Cheryl Anderson, PhD, nutrition chair, American Heart Association.
To help make the schools in your community a place where children can thrive, consider these suggestions from The Voices for Healthy Kids Action Center, a project of the American Heart Association.
• Healthier Fundraising: Is your child’s school hosting a fundraiser? Get involved and help organize fundraising efforts that don’t involve the sale of junk food. Instead, focus on selling fruit, plants, jewelry or gift items. You could even help organize an event like a walk-a-thon or dance-a-thon that raises money while getting the community moving.
• Learning Life Skills: Some schools have classroom units on nutrition and critical thinking. Talk to your school’s administration about implementing educational programming to help students identify junk food marketing in their own school and community and discuss how it impacts them.
• Advertising Audit: Despite its prevalence, commercial advertising is usually not a substantial source of revenue for schools. Ninety percent of school officials note that school programs and activities would not be reduced if advertisements of unhealthy food ceased, according to Voices for Healthy Kids. Find out if the junk food marketing taking place in your school district directly contributes to educational programming. If so, ask for healthier food and beverage products to be marketed instead.
• Speaking Out: Get involved by calling school board members and school administrators, or by organizing other members of your community. Tips, resources and information for getting started can be found at voicesforhealthykids.org.
“Often companies that sell junk food spend millions of dollars marketing to children because it works. Children are likely to ask for things that are advertised to them,” says Dr. Anderson. “Be an advocate for school environments that help the next generation lead healthy lives.”