Fast Food in Schools

Kid eating a fast food burger

Our public schools are home to some of the most insidious fast food advertising.  In Seminole County, Florida, kids were sent home with report cards in Ronald McDonald envelopes, with promises of free Happy Meals for kids with good grades.[1] Thanks to the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood and concerned parents, that particular effort was put to a stop.  Unfortunately, fast food and fast food marketing continues to be abundant in and around our children’s schools. 

An estimated 20 percent of public schools sell branded fast food, mostly in high schools, where kids have more discretion to buy “a la carte,” rather than from the regular lunch program.[2] But it’s not just direct sales.  In sports, it’s corporate team sponsorships, advertising on score boards, and sponsorship of physical education curricula, like McDonald’s "Passport to Play," widely used in public schools.[3][4] Marketing masquerades as educational programs, like Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, where children are rewarded for reading with Pizza Hut pizza and promotional items.[5]

If a school doesn’t sell fast food, there’s probably a location very nearby.  One study found that nearly 80% of Chicago schools had at least one fast food restaurant within a half-mile.[6] That’s because fast food restaurants consider sites near schools prime real estate.  It’s the perfect way for a child to stop off for an Egg McMuffin on the way to school, or a burger on the way home, or even lunch if they’re allowed to purchase lunch off-campus. 

 

1. Press Release “Ronald McDonald Report Card Ads Expelled from Seminole County
CCFC Campaign Ends Controversial In-School Marketing Program” Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, http://commercialfreechildhood.org/pressreleases/ronaldmcdonald.htm (accessed February 20, 2009).

2. American School Health Association, “School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) 2006,” Journal of School Health 77:8 (October, 2007), http://www.ashaweb.org/files/public/JOSH_1007/JOSH_77_8_o_toole_p_500.pdf.

3. Alex J. Molnar, et al., “A National Survey of the Types and Extent of the Marketing of Foods of Minimal Value in School,” Commercialism in Education Research Unit, Arizona State University (2006).

4. Passport to Play, McDonald’s Website. http://mcdepk.com/passporttoplay/index.html (accessed December 8, 2008).

5. Book It! Pizza Hut Website. http://www.bookitprogram.com/ (accessed December 8, 2008).

6. S. Bryn Austin, et al., “Clustering of Fast Food Restaurants Around Schools: A Novel Application of Spatial Statistics to the Study of Food Environments,” American Journal of Public Health, 95:9 (September, 2005): 1575-1581.

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