Examining Compliance with a Statewide Law Banning Junk Food and Beverage Marketing in Maine Schools

Policy development is an important and powerful tool to promote health and welfare in society, yet the process of adopting policies is rarely evaluated for compliance, and studies examining policy impact sometimes neglect to verify the extent to which the policy interventions are faithful to the policy’s original intent.

In this study, Polacsek et al. present a simple yet elegant evaluation of Maine’s law to limit the marketing of foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV) in public school settings. In 2007, Maine became the first state to pass legislation limiting the marketing of FMNV on public school campuses (grades K–12). This assessment, conducted in the spring of 2010, collected both observational and interview data from 20 schools who agreed to participate; 16 percent of all eligible public high schools (n=120) in Maine. Researchers used a two-part assessment tool—the Food and Beverage Marketing in Schools Assessment Tool (FBMS)—that was adapted for use in Maine.

Key Findings:

  • On average, 49 food or beverage posters/signs were observed per school, including on vending machines.
  • Researchers identified 197 different food and beverage products marketed in the schools using posters, signs, and vending machine exteriors.
  • An average of 5.6 vending machines were identified per school (111 machines in 20 schools), offering beverages such as plain water, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas. Snack foods available in these machines were primarily granola bars, Chex Mix®, chips, and cookies.
  • Non-compliant marketing of products was found in 85 percent of schools, including on vending machine exteriors and scoreboards; an average of 12 instances per school.

Evaluations can lead to critical improvements and improve success in achieving intended goals. Their findings underscore the need to perform such evaluations to inform enforcement efforts and assess impact.

These researchers urge more effective policies, including: stronger nutrition standards; better communication to administrators about policies; aid to schools in implementing their policies; cooperation from the food and beverage industry; and finally, enforcement, to support improvements in the school nutrition environment.