CCFC Takes a Slice Out of Pizza Hut Book It! Program; Urges schools and preschools to stop promoting fast food in the name of literacy

Date of Release: 

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

February 28, 2007
Contact:  Dr. Susan Linn (617.278.4282)

Urges schools and preschools to stop promoting fast food in the name of literacy

In the midst of rising concerns about childhood obesity and school commercialism, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is urging parents and educators to end their school’s involvement with Pizza Hut BOOK IT! programs.  The advocacy coalition wants Book It out of schools because it promotes bad eating habits, uses schools to market a corporate product directly to students, and is educationally counterproductive by undermining their interest in reading.

“Any one of these issues is a serious concern,” said CCFC’s co-founder Susan Linn. “Taken all together, it’s clear that Pizza Hut’s BOOK IT!  has no place in schools.”

Reaching 22 million school children in 900,000 classrooms each year, BOOK IT! is one of corporate America’s most insidious school-based brand promotions.  The annual BOOK IT! Beginners program – which allows Pizza Hut to target preschools – begins next week

“BOOK IT! epitomizes everything that’s wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school,”  said Dr. Linn, author of Consuming Kids.  “In the name of education, it promotes junk food consumption to a captive audience of children;  turns teachers into Pizza Hut promoters; and undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children.”

BOOK IT! rewards students with certificates for a free Pizza Hut personal pizza when they reach certain reading goals.  A Pizza Hut six-inch personal pan pizza has 630 calories and 27 grams of fat.  With a topping, it can have as many as 770 calories and 39 grams of fat.  For children ages 3-5, a Pizza Hut personal pizza can contain more than half of their daily caloric requirement, as well as their entire fat requirement.

“Given current concerns about childhood obesity, it is completely irresponsible to grant Pizza Hut access to children in school,” said nutritionist Jane Levine, co-founder of Kids Can Make a Difference.  “Schools need to realize that that they are undermining their students’ wellbeing – not just by promising fast food as a reward, but by integrating the Pizza Hut brand into daily classroom routines.”

To make matters worse, there is no evidence that BOOK IT! actually promotes literacy.  The program has never been formally evaluated.  Research suggests that when a child is given a reward for completing a task, the activity being rewarded may become less pleasurable.  And by focusing on quantitative goals such as the number of books read, BOOK IT! may encourage children to avoid longer, harder books.

"If I were trying to design a program that would undermine children's interest in books, lead them to read in a shallow fashion, and convince them to avoid challenging texts, I honestly don't think I could top Book It!,” said Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards and The Schools Our Children Deserve.   “Dangling pizza in front of kids as a reward for reading, much as one might use treats to house-train a puppy, reflects a completely discredited theory of motivation.  Indeed, by teaching children that reading is just a means to an end, the program is likely to be not merely ineffective but positively harmful."