Government and School Progress to Promote a Healthful Diet to American Children and Adolescents

A Comprehensive Review of the Available Evidence

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2005 released a congressionally-requested report concluding that food marketing causes kids and teens to prefer and eat foods high in salt, sugar and fats.

As part of the report, IOM issued 10 recommendations for how public and private stakeholders could improve the health and nutrition of American youth by addressing marketing. Vivica Kraak and her colleagues reviewed more than 80 different sources of data to assess the progress made by the government and schools between 2005 and 2011 on the five specific recommendations made to them. Progress is assessed as either none, limited, or extensive.

According to their evaluation, government gains have ranged from little to none, while schools have made moderate progress.

Key Findings:

  • No public stakeholder achieved extensive progress on any recommendation.
  • “Schools and educational leaders” made moderate progress on creating “healthy eating environments” by adopting school wellness policies and increasing access to healthier foods and beverages.
  • The government made limited progress on strengthening the nation’s research to understand how changing food marketing practices influence kids’ nutrition and health.
  • The government made no progress on either working with the private sector to create a long-term social marketing campaign to support kids’ healthy eating, or on designating an agency to monitor and report on all efforts to improve kids’ diets.
  • Most of the progress on the recommendations has been made since 2009.

The authors note that the IOM initiative provided a “coherent framework” for a diverse array of actors to promote healthy nutrition in kids and teens. In general, schools and the government have missed opportunities to improve children’s nutrition and “the prevailing marketing environment continues to threaten children’s health.” The research for this article was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its national program Health Eating Research.