CCFC supports ban on junk food marketing in Rhode Island schools

by: 

David Monahan, CCFC Campaign Manager

CCFC has filed written testimony in support of a bill which would ban junk food marketing in schools in Rhode Island. We suggested that they remove a loophole which would permit corporations to sell “lookalike” snacks—versions of junk foods like Doritos, Cheetos, and Pop Tarts with just enough fat, sodium, or sugar taken out to meet nutritional guidelines. But we were glad to join with Corporate Accountability International in applauding this effort to protect vulnerable kids from unhealthy marketing messages in schools.

March 1, 2017
Senate Committee on Education
State of Rhode Island General Assembly

Testimony of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Corporate Accountability International in favor of Senate Bill 304, An Act Relating To Education—Health and Safety of Pupils—Food and Beverages

To the Hon. Hanna Gallo, Senator, and members of the Committee:

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Corporate Accountability International thank you for the opportunity to jointly provide written testimony regarding Senate Bill 304.

The mission of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is to support parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing. We are a national non-profit headquartered in Boston, and more than 200 Rhode Island residents are members of our organization and support our mission. CCFC advocates for commercial-free schools.

Corporate Accountability International (CAI) is a member-powered organization that has, for over 40 years, successfully advanced campaigns protecting health, the environment, and human rights. CAI’s Value [the] Meal campaign is dedicated to reversing the global epidemic of diet-related disease by challenging the fast food industry to curb a range of its practices. CAI has more than 700 members and supporters in the state of Rhode Island.

CCFC and CAI endorse Senate Bill 304 because it provides much-needed protections for the wellbeing of children. 

Schools should be free of all marketing. Children are a captive audience in school—they cannot “change the channel” or turn off advertising. Young children are already developmentally vulnerable to marketing messages, and anything advertised in a school comes with the powerful endorsement of the school or faculty. Marketing also undermines education’s vital mission to promote critical thinking skills. Advertising promotes decision-making based on emotional attachments to brands and exploits children’s developmental vulnerabilities, such as susceptibility to peer pressure.

Corporations commonly prey upon these vulnerabilities and market in schools to encourage children to consume their brands, and to try to create brand loyalty for life when children are young and impressionable. 

Advertising at school is especially harmful when it encourages children to eat unhealthful food and beverages. Lessons on good nutrition delivered by teachers and parents are undermined when ads at school encourage kids to eat junk food. We are in the midst of the largest preventable health crisis in the U.S.—one that is spreading throughout the world, and that increasingly affects children. If this trend is not reversed, many children will be burdened with diet-related diseases like obesity and Type 2 diabetes, affecting their heath for life. Health professionals on the front lines of treating these diseases have long urged that sellers of junk food stop targeting children. The World Health Organization1  and the American Academy of Pediatrics2  recommend restrictions on junk food marketing to children. Studies from esteemed organizations such as the Institute of Medicine3  and the National Bureau of Economic Research4  suggest that junk food marketing targeted at kids is a serious health concern.

Senate Bill 304 goes right to the heart of the matter, and Rhode Island students will be well-served by its protections. If a food or beverage is not healthy enough to be served to students in school, then ads at school should certainly not encourage children to consume that product. The language of the bill is appropriately broad in prohibiting all forms of advertising, as well as participation in corporate incentive programs and fundraisers that rely on the promotion of junk food. We note also that a prohibition on marketing of foods that do not meet the minimum nutrition standards set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is required to be adopted by local education agencies pursuant to the USDA’s final rule, issued on July 29, 20165.  Enacting this law will put Rhode Island at the forefront as a leader in implementing these new protections. 

While we are pleased to state our support for this bill, we would respectfully request two revisions to the bill which would provide even greater protections for children:

  1. We applaud the bill’s strong prohibition in section (a)(2) against the “advertising of any corporate brand, unless every food and beverage product manufactured, sold, or distributed under the corporate brand name can be served or sold on the school campus during the school day.”  But this provision is weakened by this exception in section (b)(5): “A corporate brand may advertise an individual product or product line, including with brand identification, that can be served or sold on the school campus during the school day as set forth in subsection(a)(1) of this section.”  With this exception, corporations could sell familiar junk food brands like Doritos, Cheetos, or Pop Tarts in special “lookalike” versions—with reduced fat, sodium, and or sugar to sneak in under the nutrition guidelines.  An August 2016 report by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that the sale of these “lookalike” snacks confuses students and undermines schools’ ability to teach good nutrition6.   The exception would also permit a purveyor of junk food to promote their brand to vulnerable children by advertising water or apple slices or some other item that meets the USDA nutrition standards, emblazoned with their corporate logo.  To effectively keep junk food brands from marketing to children in schools, we suggest that this exception should be removed.
  2. At section (b)(2), the bill provides an exception for “[a]dvertising on clothing with brand images worn on school grounds.” We believe such an exception is only appropriate for clothing worn by students. Clothing worn by teachers and administrators should certainly remain free of any brand image for unhealthy foods or beverages, since, as stated above, displaying such images could be seen by students as an endorsement of the product.

This legislation can have an important beneficial impact on the wellbeing of Rhode Island children, and CCFC and CAI strongly support its passage. Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this testimony.

Sincerely,

Josh Golin
Executive Director
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood 

Sriram Madhusoodanan
Director, Value [the] Meal campaign 
Corporate Accountability International


1. “Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children,” World Health Organization, 2010, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2010/9789241500210_eng.pdf (accessed March 16, 2016).
2. Committee on Communications, “Children, Adolescents, and Advertising,” Pediatrics 95, no. 2 (February 1, 1995), 295–97, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/95/2/295 (accessed March 16, 2016).
3. Dan Glickman et al., “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2012, http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2012/Accelerating-Progress-in-ObesityPreventi... (accessed February 26, 2015).
4. Chou et al., “Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and its Influence on Childhood Obesity,” National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2005, http://www.nber.org/papers/w11879.pdf?new_window=1 (accessed March 16, 2016).
5. See USDA, “Local School Wellness Policy Implementation Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010: Summary of the Final Rule,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/tn/LWPsummary_finalrule.pdf
6. Harris, Hyary, Schwartz, “Effects of Offering Look-Alike Products as Smart Snacks in Schools,” Childhood Obesity, Aug. 30, 2016, http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/files/Pdfs/chi%252E2016%252E0080.pdf

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