The Senate Education Committee recently heard testimony on one of the American Heart Association’s priority bills that would ensure only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property.
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This bill has broad support – 18 organizations signed our joint written testimony that we presented to the committee. We have been working on this bill for a couple of years and we are hopeful it will make it to the Governor’s desk in 2017!
The premise of this bill is very simple. If a food or beverage can’t be sold in schools because it doesn’t meet federal and state nutrition guidelines, then it shouldn’t be advertised or marketed there either. This is very important because research shows that the aggressive marketing and advertising of high-calorie, unhealthy foods to children are contributing to today’s childhood obesity epidemic.
There have been some developments since we last worked on this bill last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) adopted a final rule that states any food or beverage marketed on school property must meet federal nutrition guidelines. There is a greater sense of urgency because USDA has left it to the states to further define this stipulation and provide implementation guidance to school districts.
Our bill aims to provide this guidance by defining what constitutes advertising and marketing activities, thereby establishing a baseline for all districts to follow. The bill also makes certain that advertising and marketing complies with Rhode Island’s school nutrition standards in addition to federal guidelines (our state standards are a bit stronger). We believe this bill is necessary to ensure uniform implementation across the state, as many district wellness policies reference state law. School districts can always go above and beyond the baseline if they choose.