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Do Product Advertising and Corporate Sponsorships in Public School Settings Pose a Threat to Students’ Health?

New Report Documents Threats to Children -- Offers
Policymakers Guidance on Assessing the Threat

Jamie Horwitz, 202-549-4921,
Faith Boninger, 480-390-6736,

URL for this release:


BOULDER, CO (April 18, 2013) – The financial squeeze caused by “The Great Recession,” and the economic doldrums that followed, placed significant pressure on school districts across the country. Schools and school districts, for years encouraged to engage in “school-business partnerships,” are pressed more and more to work with advertisers and corporate sponsors to replace lost revenue.

In their quest for additional funding, many schools and school districts have allowed corporations to promote the consumption of sweetened beverages and foods of little or no nutritional value in school and in conjunction with school projects.

Promoting Consumption at School: Health Threats Associated with Schoolhouse Commercialismwas released today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. Promoting Consumption at School is the 15th annual report examining commercialism in public schools produced by NEPC’s Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU).

In the report, University of Colorado Boulder researchers Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger, Michael D. Harris and Ken M. Libby, joined by Joseph Fogarty of the Corballa National School, County Sligo, Ireland, argue that marketing in schools not only generates little money, but threatens children’s physical and psychological health as well as the quality of their education.

The report identifies the threats to children’s well-being posed by advertising in school. The authors advise stakeholders to consider the type of psychological, health, and educational threats posed by various advertising programs and point out factors that might intensify or reduce those threats.

“It’s possible and generally desirable to say no to corporate sponsorships,” said University of Colorado Professor and NEPC Publishing Director Alex Molnar. ”Commercializing programs in schools can bring with them serious threats to children’s well-being.” added Molnar.

Does food marketing at school promote childhood obesity? Research indicates that food advertising influences children’s food preferences, their purchase requests, and how much they eat. Foods advertised in school are often sold in school as “competitive foods” outside the school lunch program and marketed regularly in myriad ways, via appropriation of space on school property, exclusive marketing agreements with schools, digital marketing on school websites and other digital portals, sponsorship of school programs, incentive programs, supplementary educational materials, and fundraising programs.

The report authors point out that corporations can seem philanthropic when they provide sponsored educational materials – what used to be more accurately called “propaganda" – to schools and teachers. These materials can be colorful and engaging, and may align with state and now Common Core standards, but they also present a worldview consistent with that of the sponsor. Nestlé’s “Healthy Steps for Healthy Lives” program, which provides lesson plans for K-3 students, is a case in point. In one lesson plan, called “My Hydration Communication,” for example, although the brand “Nestlé” is never actually mentioned to students, the teacher is guided by the lesson plan to teach students the view favored by Nestlé and other beverage companies that all beverages count toward their recommended intake of water. This view is represented as a fact with little or no analysis and no mention of other views.

Promoting Consumption at School provides examples of how marketing by companies and brands such as Chick-Fil-A, Old Spice, Coca-Cola and Pepsi can involve multiple threats to students' well-being. The report also provides a framework for school leaders to use to assess whether a proposed marketing activity poses psychological, health, and/or educational threats to students.

Molnar and his colleagues recommend that because the threats posed to children by advertising in school are often severe, policymakers should prohibit schools from participating in commercial marketing activities unless they provide compelling evidence that a proposed advertising program poses no threat to children’s well-being.


The full report can be found at

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on NEPC, please visit