Commercialism in School Food and Beverages

Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, MSA Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann ArborMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, MSA
Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: This study examined 2007-2012 commercialism trends in schools attended by nationally representative samples of US elementary and secondary students.

While some measures showed significant decreases over time (especially
beverage vending measures), most students at both elementary and secondary
school levels continued to be exposed to school-based commercialism.
Commercialism increased significantly with grade level. The most frequent
type of commercialism varied by school level:  food coupons used as
incentives was most common at the elementary school level, while exclusive
beverage contracts were the most prevalent type of commercialism for middle
and high school students.

MedicalResearch.com: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Answer: Exposure to elementary school coupons, as well as middle and high school exclusive beverage contracts, was significantly more likely for students
attending schools with mid or low (versus high) student body socioeconomic
status.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer:  Children at all levels of education–from 1st through 12th grade–are exposed to significant commercial and marketing efforts within the nation’s
schools.  Exposure to such commercialism appears to be highest for students
in socioeconomically disadvantaged schools.  The majority of foods and
beverages marketed in any venue towards children and adolescents are high
in calories, sugars, salt, and fat, and are low in essential nutrients;
data indicate that the same is true for in-school marketing. In-school
marketing for less healthy foods and beverages clearly counteracts
educational programming aimed at developing good nutritional habits. The
continuing high prevalence of school-based commercialism supports calls
for, at minimum, clear and enforceable standards on the nutritional content
of all foods and beverages marketed to youth in school settings.

MedicalResearch.com:  What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer:  The recently-published USDA interim final rule governing school competitive nutrition environments provides standards for all competitive venue foods and beverages served and sold in schools participating in the National
School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The new standards should significantly improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages sold
in school competitive venues; however, they do not address in-school
marketing. This leaves open an interesting opportunity for companies to
continue to extend brand recognition and loyalty efforts, as well as
promote less-healthy items. For example, vending machines may be stocked
with items meeting the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, yet
the visual advertising on the machine may still promote items of low
nutritional value. Future research is needed to examine the extent to which
the commercialism environment in America’s schools supports or undermines
efforts to improve student health.

Citation:
Commercialism in US Elementary and Secondary School Nutrition Environments
Trends From 2007 to 2012

Terry-McElrath YM, Turner L, Sandoval A, Johnston LD, Chaloupka FJ. Commercialism in US Elementary and Secondary School Nutrition Environments: Trends From 2007 to 2012. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4521.