New Castle News

February 26, 2014

Our Opinion: Obama administration targets junk food ads

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — We anticipate some controversy over the Obama administration’s proposed new rules regarding schools and junk food.

Mainly it will come from those who complain about federal meddling in public education. It’s been an ongoing complaint, which only has grown since President Obama has been in office.

But generally, we think the rules announced this week are appropriate. And they lead to the larger question: Why weren’t they put in place years ago?

The purpose of schools primarily is education. But a larger role involves the protection of students. It’s a role that has morphed dramatically in recent years with increased concerns about physical safety and security. But schools have always had an obligation to look out for the welfare of their young charges.

And why shouldn’t that include matters related to proper nutrition? Government programs long have promoted school lunches and even breakfast as a way of making sure low-income children are getting the nutrition they need to be healthy and properly prepared to learn. We see the Obama administration’s new rules as merely an extension of this process.

Basically, any advertising or promotion of junk foods would be banned from schools. A major offender in this regard is soft drinks. Curiously, soft drink makers still will be able to promote diet versions of their beverages, along with sports drinks, waters or products that have some nutritional content. Frankly, we don’t think there’s any reason to promote diet colas for young people any more than regular versions of these beverages.

The reluctance to be more forceful, we suspect, has a lot to do with the fact school systems around the country make money promoting dubious food products to children. Even if companies can’t advertise products that are little more than sugar water, they will be able to market other beverages in this fashion, thus ensuring a stream of revenue will remain open to schools.

When it comes to criticisms that the federal government shouldn’t be pushing this sort of agenda in schools, we are unimpressed. After all, teaching children about sound nutrition is an important part of the learning process. In this world, they have all manner of food choices facing them — which will only increase as they become adults.

It’s difficult to fathom how schools can credibly make the case for sound nutrition if young people see ads for junk foods and beverages when walking down the halls. The inconsistency in these circumstances is bound to be obvious — and bound to make young people wonder about what they are being told.

Restricting this sort of marketing won’t prevent students from being exposed to promotions for unhealthy foods. The world is full of advertising along those lines. But there’s no reason to have it in schools.