Tell the USDA: Schools should be commercial-free

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed new guidelines that could help limit junk-food marketing in schools. It’s a laudable effort -- but there’s a problem. As written, the USDA's guidelines inadvertently green light the practice of in-school marketing -- the first time any federal agency has done so.

The proposed guidelines require local education agencies “to implement policies for the marketing of foods and beverages on the school campus during the school day consistent with nutrition standards for Smart Snacks.” In other words, the USDA is urging schools only to limit junk-food marketing. In doing so, the guidelines could encourage schools to allow marketing for other foods and beverages -- and that's not all. By attempting to set a ceiling that prohibits advertising for unhealthy foods, the USDA may inadvertently set a floor that opens the floodgates for many other types of marketing in schools, establishing a dangerous precedent that goes far beyond food.

Yesterday, CCFC filed comments urging the USDA to strengthen it guidelines. Can you join us in asking the USDA to encourage schools to adopt policies that prohibit all commercialism in schools?

It is worrisome that the USDA’s proposal would allow many forms of junk food marketing in schools, such as visits by Ronald McDonald or so-called incentive programs like the SunnyD Book Spree, to continue. But even more troubling is that that USDA fails to acknowledge that commercial-free school environments are preferable to those that allow marketing.

Marketing in schools exploits a captive audience of students. Unlike advertising on television or other media, there is no “off” button; exposure to in-school marketing is mandatory.

If the USDA is requiring schools to implement new policies for food and beverage marketing, the agency can and should recommend best practices. The USDA’s guidelines to schools should include the following: “From a 'whole-child' perspective -- one that supports students’ cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as their physical wellbeing -- schools should be commercial-free zones.”

Limiting junk food ads is good. Commercial-free is far better. Please tell the USDA to make a stand for commercial-free schools.