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Legislators and health advocates deliver clear message: Time to ban marketing junk food to kids in school

April 8, 2015

Salem, Ore. – The House Education Committee heard from public health and school officials Friday, all of whom delivered a strong message about the importance of a ban junk food marketing in Oregon schools. Although junk food sales were banned in Oregon schools years ago, children can still be exposed to junk food marketing in many forms while in school, even though messages about junk food have been shows to negatively affect children’s food choices, diets and health.

HB 3363-3 directs the Oregon Department of Education to develop rules to restrict junk food marketing on campuses, to the extent allowable by law. 

“Over half of all Oregon kids qualify for the free and reduced price school meals programs,” said Kasandra Griffin of Upstream Public Health. “That means they are getting a lot of their food, and a lot of their food education, at schools.  We are proposing that we should give those kids – and all kids – consistent messages about food and health.”

The junk food industry spends nearly $2 billion annually to market junk food to children. As Oregon and the nation battle an obesity epidemic that threatens to worsen health and shorten lives, a coalition of public health and health equity groups are supporting the ban. School officials point to worsening student health and even a negative impact on academic performance.

“There is a direct correlation between the quality of food students eat and academic outcomes, including graduation rates and student involvement in activities,” said Jim Thomas, Superintendent of the McKenzie School District, located 40 miles east of Eugene. “We have seen it all around us: students who don't eat well just don't test well.”

One in 4 Oregon adolescents are overweight or obese, leading to heart disease, diabetes, and eventually early death, and experts estimate 40 percent of children nationally will develop Type 2 Diabetes in their lifetime. The risk of diabetes is even higher in children of color.

Because of this adverse impact on communities of color, Griffin and Thomas were joined by Darlene Huntress and Linda Roman of the Oregon Health Equity Alliance, who testified about the disproportionate impact of diabetes on kids from communities of color, and the fact that they are more likely to be exposed to junk food marketing than their white counterparts 

“It is one thing to advertise to adults, who have developed brains and a good understanding of cause and effect,” said Huntress. “It is another thing to advertise to kids, who we know don’t exactly have great impulse control or long range thinking.”

In 2007, Oregon banned the sale of junk food in schools, a bold step at the time that has improved the quality and nutritional value of food available on Oregon campuses. The original law banned junk food sales but not the marketing of junk food, leaving a loophole open that companies continue to exploit. Companies can and do provide coupons, signage and marketing materials about soda, pizza, and other junk food to kids during school hours.

“Oregon has made significant investments in creating a healthier school food environment over the last decade, investments which are undermined by this marketing,” said Griffin.

The National PTA and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) formally oppose advertising to children in schools.