The House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) recently heard testimony on legislation that would eliminate unhealthy food and beverage marketing in Rhode Island schools. The bill, introduced by HEW Committee Chairman Joe McNamara, is one of our top priorities for the 2015 Legislative Session.
Many thanks to RI Advocacy Committee Chairman Dr. Steven Fera and RI Advocacy Committee member Laurie Stephenson for testifying at the hearing! We are happy to report that there was no vocal opposition to the bill and committee members seemed generally supportive. The next step – we are urging the committee to recommend passage of this important measure and move it to the House floor for a vote! A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Susan Sosnowski – we are also awaiting a hearing before the Senate Education Committee.
While national, state, and local efforts have improved the nutritional quality of foods provided and sold in schools, some schools still permit the marketing of foods high in calories, fat, and sugar and of minimal nutritional value. That marketing includes sales, free samples, and advertising of unhealthy foods; corporate-sponsored fundraising programs which encourage students and their families to sell, purchase, and consume foods and beverages with little nutritional value; incentive programs, which reward children with free or discounted foods or beverages when they reach certain academic goals; sponsorship of school programs or events; and branded educational materials.
Permitting the advertising of foods and beverages at schools that may not be sold there interferes with school messages promoting good health and academic success. If children are taught through school health and nutrition curriculum to limit their intake of these foods and at the same time the foods are promoted by school-based advertising and marketing, the lessons of school health and nutrition curricula are undermined. The marketing also undermines parents’ efforts to feed their children a healthy diet.
The good news – according to a recent report, most Rhode Island middle schools and high schools already prohibit unhealthy food and beverage advertisements in school buildings (89%), on school grounds (88%), on school buses (84%), and in school publications (83%). Let’s get to 100% Rhode Island!