By Mary Clare Jalonick
and Darlene Superville
WASHINGTON: It’s not just about what America’s kids are getting in the lunch line.
The Obama administration is moving to phase out junk food advertising on football scoreboards and elsewhere on school grounds — part of a broad effort to combat child obesity and create what Michelle Obama calls “a new norm” for today’s schoolchildren and future generations.
“This new approach to eating and activity is not just a fad,” the first lady said Tuesday as she described the proposed rules at the White House.
Promotion of sugary drinks and junk foods around campuses during the school day would be phased out under the Agriculture Department rules, which are intended to ensure that marketing is brought in line with health standards that already apply to food served by public schools.
That means a scoreboard at a high school football or basketball game eventually wouldn’t be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, although it could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water, also owned by Coca-Cola Co. Same with the front of a vending machine. Cups, posters and menu boards that promote foods that don’t meet federal standards would also be phased out.
Companies are spending $149 million a year on marketing to kids in schools, according to the Agriculture Department.
The announcement at the White House was part of a week of events marking the fourth anniversary of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” program. Obama was appearing later Tuesday at a Miami recreation center with actress Amy Poehler to talk about helping children pursue healthy activities outside of school.
Even though diet sodas would be allowed in high schools under the proposed rules announced Tuesday, the rules don’t address the question raised by some as to whether those drinks are actually healthful alternatives to sugary soda.
Some healthful-food rules have come under fire from conservatives who say the government shouldn’t dictate what kids eat — and from some students who don’t like the alternatives.
Aware of the backlash, the Agriculture Department is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions and is asking for comments. For example, the proposal asks for comments on initiatives like Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, which rewards kids with pizza for reading.
Rules for other school fundraisers, like bake sales and marketing for those events, would be left up to schools or states.
Schools that don’t want to comply could leave the National School Lunch Program, which allows schools to collect reimbursements for lunches for needy students in exchange for following certain standards.
The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rules, which also would allow more children access to free lunches and ensure that schools have wellness policies in place.