A US health group has branded a voluntary industry initiative to tackle junk food marketing in schools a “sham”.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative will do little to protect school children’s health unless its principles are expanded substantially.
Fifteen major food companies, including Burger King, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey Company and McDonald’s - have now signed up to the self regulatory scheme, under which participants “commit to not advertising food or beverage products in elementary schools.”
Coupons, food samples, posters and book covers are amongst the forms of prohibited advertising, but CSPI points out that the scheme does not cover all forms of marketing.
Branding on vending machine exteriors, branded display racks, tray liners and menu boards is permitted, as are “spokescharacters” such as Ronald McDonald and sponsorship of educational materials. “It even omits the most common form of in-school marketing: the sale of the food itself,” said CSPI.
A further concern is that the guidelines only cover elementary schools and do not apply during after-school activities.
“These principles are a sham, written more to protect the commercial needs of food marketers than the health of children,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan.
“With a new Administration, a re-animated Federal Trade Commission, and more city and state governments interested in aggressively tackling the problem of childhood obesity, we’re likely to see reforms that far surpass what the industry is willing to do voluntarily.
Junk food bill
CSPI was one of a coalition of national and state health groups which wrote to Congress supporting a recently introduced 'junk food' bill.
The proposed National School Food Marketing Act, sponsored by Carolyn McCarthy and Todd Platts, would require the US Department of Health to assess the nutritional quality of foods available in schools, as well as the forms of food marketing.
The coalition, which included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the Trust for America’s Health, stated: “Food marketing influences children’s attitudes, food choices, diets, and health. Since children spend more time in schools than in any other setting outside of their homes, the types and amount of foods and beverages marketed in schools is of interest.”
The coalition added that last year’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report on food marketing to youth did not provide enough details on the types and amounts of food marketed in schools.
“We need an observational study that looks at the nature and extent of food marketing in schools, by school level,” it said.