U.S. school systems have made some of the biggest strides towards healthier food options in recent years, but children are still being exposed to food and beverage marketing efforts on campuses, from junk food brands, a new study reveals.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "High school students get the most exposure, and for almost 64% of elementary school students, the most common type of commercialism is food coupons distributed as incentives," found the study, which was published in the recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Pediatrics.
Surveys conducted between 2007 and 2012 revealed that schools are becoming "desirable marketing areas for food and beverage companies, although many of the products marketed to students are nutritionally poor," wrote the study authors.
The good news is that exposure to junk food is dropping in schools, even if only slightly. "In 2006, food and beverage companies spent $186 million on youth-directed in-school marketing," reports the Times. "That year and the next, the federal government issued recommendations for changes. By 2009, the spending had fallen to $149 million, the authors said. In 2011, about a tenth of districts in the U.S. prohibited unhealthful food and beverage marketing. In fact, many used profits from such relationships to make up for budget shortfalls."
The researchers reviewed sponsorship programs, contracts, incentive programs and advertising and fundraising campaigns branded by major snack, soda and junk food brands that included selling products in schools. "So a fast-food company's weekly lunch for fifth-graders, or ads posted on school fences, or coupons for good grades all would be included," the LA Times reported.
By 2012, schools noticed a decrease in beverage contracts "it was 2.9% of elementary school students, compared with 10.2% in 2007; 49.5% of middle school students, compared with 67.4% in 2007; and 69.8% of high school students, compared with 74.5% in 2007."
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USDA and local school policy changes have helped to reduce the availability of unhealthy products like sodas, but the researchers still noted a need for "at minimum, clear and enforceable standards on the nutritional content of all foods and beverages marketed to youth in school settings."
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