Photo of First Lady, Michelle Obama

First Lady, Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack laid out new restrictions on Tuesday, limiting junk food and sugary drink marketing in schools.

The new rules prohibit  advertisements for unhealthy foods on school campuses. Also included are bans on sugary drinks ads, the bulk of what is marketed to students.

Advertising will be allowed to phase out, so scoreboards and billboards on campuses will not have to be replaced overnight.

Obama said that schools should be healthy places where kids are not bombarded with ads for junk foods. She said that despite seeing many ads for unhealthy foods, kids see only one advertisement per week for healthy foods and beverages.

“No parent wants a food fight,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “When children come home from school with a coupon for pizza or doughnuts as a reward, it’s hard to say ‘no’. Sometimes we give in, but it doesn’t seem fair that while parents are trying to teach their kids how to eat healthy, children sometimes get a different message at school.”

Schools are already limiting advertising of prohibited foods, said Vilsack. Thirty-eight percent already prohibit advertising and 28 percent are recommending it.

Advertising will be limited for products that aren’t allowed to be sold in schools, under the USDA Smart Snacks in School Guidelines that were announced in June. These apply to snacks and drinks served in school buildings, including vending machines, school stores, snack carts and a la carte items.

“If you can’t sell it, you ought not to be able to market it,” Vilsack said.

“What better way to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign then to take on the marketing of unhealthy food in schools – the one place where the nation’s children spend most of their day,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “Prohibiting the marketing of junk food and sugar-laden beverages that don’t meet the Smart Snacks in School standards will encourage kids to make more nutritious choices and reinforce their parents’ hard work to keep them healthy.”

The White House and the Department of Agriculture also announced a plan to expand the federally funded free breakfast and lunch program, which could help ensure that 9 million kids in 22,000 schools will be served breakfast.

“Too many are hungry and too many are obese or at risk of being obese,” Vilsack said.

Millions of children in the country are showing up to school hungry every day. Some don’t eat free breakfast at school because there’s a social stigma with participating in it, Obama said. Expanding the program will allow schools with a high percentage of students qualifying for free breakfast and lunch to provide the meals free to all their students.

Children who eat breakfast learn more easily and have fewer discipline problems, Obama said.

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Photo courtesy of The White House