Marketing of Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value to Children in Schools

With childhood obesity trends escalating over the past three decades—leading to diminished quality, length-of-life, and billions of dollars of health care spending—this study examines how unhealthy foods are marketed in our nation’s schools. 

These obesity trends result, in part, from overconsumption of foods high in fat and sugar (FHFS) and those of “minimal nutritional value” (FMNV). In addition, many children fail to meet recommended activity guidelines. Meanwhile, many unhealthy foods are marketed directly to children despite strong links between food marketing, children’s purchase requests, and children’s weight. This nationally representative study measures the nature and extent of marketing activities in American primary schools (2003–2004), reported by a stratified random sample of 313 primary school officials.

Key Findings:

  • American primary schools participated in fund raising (37.7 %), incentive programs (31.6%), and exclusive agreements (16.3%) with a corporation that sells FHFS or FMNV.
  • Of the school officials responding, 87.5 percent indicated their schools would not be forced to reduce programs if marketing was prohibited; 53.7 percent supported increased regulation of FHFS and FMNV marketing.

American primary schools participate extensively in corporate-sponsored marketing for foods whose high consumption may lead to obesity and its attendant health risks. Policy changes, such as marketing regulation, has the potential to reduce childhood obesity.