Marketing activities represent another element of the nutrition-related environment in schools. Marketing includes both the selling of specific brands of food and beverages, and the prominent use of food and beverage company names and logos in schools. Although there is a paucity of rigorous scientific evidence on the impact of marketing on food selection and purchase by children in schools, it is possible that marketing reflects, in part, the considerable resources many students have to spend. Food and beverage companies are also eager to shape students’ brand awareness and loyalty, and thus purchasing patterns, as they mature into adulthood (GAO, 2000; IOM, 2006; Palmer et al., 2004; Story and French, 2004). For example, more than $200 billion is spent annually by children and adolescents. Candy, carbonated soft drinks, and salty snacks consistently represent the leading categories of food and beverage items that are purchased by this group (IOM, 2006). In addition, a rigorous review of peer-reviewed literature on the effect of food marketing, primarily advertising, found that among many factors, food and beverage marketing influences the preferences and purchase requests of children, influences consumption at least in the short term, is a likely contributor to less healthful diets, and may contribute to negative diet-related health outcomes and risks among children and youth (IOM, 2006). Indeed, in many ways the schools represent an ideal audience for marketing, with millions of students attending school at least six hours a day, five days a week. Schools are often also eager to be involved in marketing efforts to help alleviate chronically tight budgets (Palmer et al., 2004; Story and French, 2004).
The report Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? (IOM, 2006) indicates that “[t]he competitive multifaceted marketing of high-calorie and low-nutrient food and beverage products in school settings is widely prevalent and appears to have increased steadily over the past decade.” Encouraging soft drink sales is the most common kind of marketing activity in schools. In addition, 20 percent of high schools sell branded fast foods (Wechsler et al., 2001).
A particularly prevalent form of advertising at school is on scoreboards, in the form of corporate logos and soft drink ads (GAO, 2000). Also, more than one-third of middle and high schools use Channel One, which provides news programs for classroom viewing that include commercials for soft drinks and snacks.
Food and beverage marketing in the school environment can appear in many forms. For example, Story and French (2004) identified
sales of foods and beverages that benefit the school, the school district, or a student activity;