A Balancing Act

By April Moore

Corporate advertising is part of daily school life in more than 80 percent of the nation’s public elementary, middle, and high schools, according to a recent study. But in today’s media-saturated world, where everyone is faced with pop-up ads, Instant Messaging, product placement, and a constant barrage of traditional and nontraditional marketing, is such ubiquitous school advertising a problem?

Many educators and others would say --  and have said --  yes. They connect the rise in childhood obesity to the infiltration of media into schools. They point to schools trying to raise money for chronically underfunded programs as taking the “easy money” from the corporate world.

“Parents and students trust schools to keep students’ best interest at heart,” says Brita Butler-Wall, a member of the Seattle School Board, “so students are harmed when schools subject them to ads for products that are not good for them, such as sugary soft drinks and snack foods high in fat and salt.”

However, the “anything goes” trend in school advertising seems to be shifting, albeit slowly. Responding to widespread concern about the connection between childhood obesity and the consumption of soft drinks, the Coca-Cola Company and other beverage companies worked with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation --  a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association --  to establish new guidelines to limit portion sizes and reduce the number of calories available during the school day. Under these guidelines, announced last May, only lower calorie and higher nutrition beverages will be sold in school vending machines.

But advertising is not going away anytime soon. The question for school leaders is: How can schools find the right balance between corporate support and commercial infringement?

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