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Co-author: Renee Gross, J.D., Legislative Coordinator at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

When you send your child to school in the morning, you expect they will learn math, reading, and writing; even art and physical education. But you probably don’t expect them to learn about unhealthy food and drinks. Food and beverage companies spend $149 million a year marketing their products to a captive audience of 30 million students in schools around the country. For example, companies use food coupons as student incentives, such as Pizza Hut’s Boot It and Sonic Limeades for learning programs. Elementary and high schools regularly serve branded fast food, in addition to plastering posters on school walls for soft drinks, fast food, and candy. In order to raise money for their teams and after-school programs, students participate in branded fundraising by selling unhealthy food products to family and friends. And yes, Ronald McDonald is still visiting elementary schools to teach children about healthy eating. Most often the food and drink products marketed in schools are high in fat, sugar, and salt. These unhealthy messages shape our children’s taste preferences and ultimately put their health at risk, while undermining the efforts of school staff and parents to encourage kids to eat healthfully.

Our kids deserve better.

Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama and her undying commitment to the health of our nation’s kids, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued new proposed rules for federal school wellness policies under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). The USDA’s latest rules set the stage for eliminating unhealthy food and beverage marketing to kids in school by requiring school districts to include food marketing policies in their wellness plans. These policies would allow marketing of only those foods and beverages that meet the new “Smart Snacks” standards, nutrition guidelines that are scheduled for implementation in the 2014-2015 school year.


Michelle Obama has served as the public voice for the USDA, and helped this agency create strong and influential rules for developing school wellness policies. In the past, these rules have addressed physical activity and nutrition education, asked parents for their opinions and participation, and evaluated whether schools are achieving their policy goals. Because wellness policies also require that schools include goals for nutrition promotion, the proposed USDA rules support schools in achieving this objective by eliminating marketing that detracts from a healthy student lifestyle.

Schools have the important job of educating our nation’s youth and research clearly shows that healthy students are more successful in school. Not only is this an opportunity to improve nutrition standards, but also to change the food environment for kids, creating new norms to support the health of our nation’s future leaders.

Michelle Obama has done her part: now we must do our part to ensure these rules are brought to life.

Here are 3 ways you can take action!

  1. Submit your written comment in support of the proposed rule.
  2. Learn about the marketing environment in your child’s school: Here’s a great tool to get you started.
  3. Participate in the development and implementation of your school’s wellness policy.


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