The vast majority of students are exposed to marketing campaigns by food and beverage companies at their schools, usually for unhealthy products, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.
Researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that students’ exposure to food advertising starts at a young age and gets progressively worse as they move up grade levels. Just under 64 percent of elementary schools students see food commercialism, mostly in the form of coupons. But food advertising — especially through exclusive beverage contracts with companies like Coke — was prevalent in schools attended by half of all middle schools students and seven in 10 high school students. These products tended to be filled with sugar, and contracts were more prevalent in schools with poorer students.
“Although there have been significant decreases over time in many of the measures examined, the continuing high prevalence of school-based commercialism calls for, at minimum, clear and enforceable standards on the nutritional content of all foods and beverages marketed to youth in school settings,” concluded the study authors.
Still, the researchers noted that some progress has been made when it comes to taking junk foods out of schools. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that the number of school districts banning unhealthy and sugar-filled products from vending machines has ballooned over the last six years. Now, just under 45 percent of all school districts have instituted stricter standards for their vending machines.
Those practices are likely to continue as proposed federal rules on school lunch standards are enforced in the coming years. Under the proposed rules, school cafeterias and vending machines will only be able to offer products whose main ingredients are fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, or contain at least 50 percent whole grains. The regulations would also put a ceiling on the amount of calories in a food that can come from sweetening additives, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, and would ban sodas in cafeterias and vending machines outright.