Student Well-Being

Proposed Rules Aim to Curb Junk-Food Ads in Schools

March 04, 2014 3 min read
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Schools may have to gradually phase out ads on their campuses for sugary drinks, salty snacks, and other unhealthy foods, under proposed new federal rules unveiled at the White House last week.

First lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the proposed regulations at a press conference held in tandem with the fourth anniversary of the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, a key focus of which has been to help schools and students make healthier choices.

The rules are meant to ensure that foods and beverages that are marketed to children in school align with the recent Smart Snacks in School standards, which established nutrition standards for foods other than those sold through federally subsidized lunch and breakfast programs, such as vending-machine fare and cafeteria a la carte items.

“Parents should be in control of their kids’ health,” said Mrs. Obama. “When parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn’t be undone by unhealthy messages at school.”

If they take effect with no major revisions, the rules will effectively ban advertisements for foods that do not meet federal nutrition guidelines during the school day. Such ads include those on vending machines, posters, menu boards, cups, and other food-service equipment. Schools that do not wish to comply with the guidelines would be dropped from the National School Lunch Program and forgo their corresponding government reimbursements.

Like the Smart Snacks rules, though, the guidelines would continue to make allowances for after-school events, such as bake sales and other fundraisers.

Some Caveats

The USDA would also leave some discretion to local districts. For example, the department’s guidelines would not require schools to replace existing scoreboards or other durable equipment that have logos for, say, Coca-Cola or other high-calorie beverages; the proposal recommends that, when the time comes to replace such equipment, schools comply with the new marketing standards.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the guidelines would likely not have a significant financial impact on schools.

The draft rules were published Feb. 26 in the Federal Register and are open for comment until April 28, before the USDA finalizes them.

To help schools implement the proposed policies, the Agriculture Department will launch a “School Nutrition Environment and Wellness Resources” website with model wellness policies for districts and resources for on-campus food-marketing practices.

In a statement last week, the American Beverage Association, a Washington group representing makers of nonalcoholic refreshments, expressed its support for the proposed rules.

“We look forward to working with the USDA on their proposed rule to align food and beverage signage in schools with the new regulations as a logical next step,” said Susan Neely, the ABA’s president and CEO.

These rules are the latest effort by the Obama administration to improve children’s health and curb widespread obesity among schoolchildren by limiting the amount of calories, salt, and fat available during the school day.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed in December 2010, gave the U.S. agriculture secretary the authority to put forth new, healthier nutrition standards for federally subsidized school meals. It also made it easier for more low-income students to qualify for free lunches by certifying them using Medicaid data and eliminating paperwork requirements. And it created new training and certification requirements for school food-service personnel.

The school meal standards stirred controversy among federal lawmakers, especially those from potato-growing states, who succeeded in dialing back some of the standards, such as those limiting the number of servings of starchy vegetables in school meals.

At last week’s event, Mrs. Obama also highlighted the coming expansion of a school meals program that focused on low-income students. The “community eligibility” option, already in use in 11 states, has been rolled out incrementally since the 2011-12 school year.

Beginning July 1, schools nationwide whose populations are largely from low-income families will be eligible to serve free lunch and breakfast to every student.

A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2014 edition of Education Week as Proposed Rules Seek to Limit Junk-Food Ads in Schools


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