How schools are used to market sugar to kids

Big Food is using back to school as a way to push even more sugar on a generation of children who face an epidemic of diabetes. New guidelines released this week from the American Heart Association recommend children have less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day – a third of the average 18 they currently get.  To help bring sugar back to healthy levels, new rules from the USDA mean the junk food giants will have a little less wiggle room to use schools as ads.  This step comes amid growing calls for governments to take action to protect children from unhealthy food marketing.  

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Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture released finalized rules on school nutrition. In its Local School Wellness Policy Implementation rule, the USDA clarified standards for in-school marketing of food and beverage items. It also clarified what is and is not subject to policies for food and beverage marketing in schools.

Schools that choose to allow marketing of food and beverages to students are effectively limited to foods that are 35% or less sugar by weight (but that’s still a lot of sugar). School officials also have the discretion to enact broader policies around, say, fundraising events, and should not interpret the rule is “to imply that schools must allow food or beverage marketing on campus.” 

State agencies and schools should take advantage of the option to adopt more stringent policies. That’s because research shows strong laws limiting food and beverage advertising in schools were associated with lower obesity in youth.

School wellness policies should also address parties and rewards, but the new USDA rules did not set any specific standards for this. It’s difficult for parents to help children stay below the daily limit if there are no policies to prevent those kinds of school sugar overload.

And as rates of diabetes and pre-diabetes in children continue to climb, it’s all the more important to help parents get a handle on that overload. In adopting the rule, the USDA noted the need to reduce consumption of added sugars and reduce obesity rates.  While the new rule is a step forward from having no limits on using schools to market to children, more action is needed.  Continuing to allow school-based marketing of products that are one-third sugar will feed future rates of diabetes and obesity. If you want to do more to help bring school sugar back to healthy levels, join the movement at healthyfoodamerica.org.


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