Health initiative could cost schools ad dollars

Nathan Baker • Feb 25, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Local school district officials say new rules proposed Tuesday by the White House and the Agriculture Department limiting the marketing of sugary soft drinks and unhealthy foods on public school campuses could affect contracts with major advertisers.

Both Dave Chupa, Johnson City Schools’ supervisor of instruction and facilities, and Bill Flanary, Washington County Schools’ assistant director, said their respective districts hold active contracts with Coca-Cola, through which the soda company pays to install and maintain scoreboards at athletics facilities in exchange for advertising space on the board.

“Without them, we don’t have scoreboards,” Flanary said. “If they weren’t maintaining those for us, we would have to come up with the money to do it ourselves, and that would be very hard to come by.”

The rules, announced at a White House event by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as an extension of the Let’s Move initiative to reduce childhood obesity levels, do leave room for beverage companies to advertise healthier choices, like calorie-free soft drinks or bottled water, and they provide for a gradual phase in of the scoreboard advertising changes.

Chupa said many drink manufacturers, which account for approximately 90 percent of the advertising currently in schools, started making the switch to their other options on vending machine advertising years ago, as the first lady’s program began to be implemented.

“A lot of companies have other options, and I would hope that they would just transition to advertising other options,” he said. “It would be very hard for schools to give those dollars up.”

At Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium, Chupa estimated that advertising brings in $50,000 to $75,000 in revenue annually, and about 30 percent of that comes from sugary drinks and other items that would likely be considered unhealthy under the federal school lunch standards.

According to an Associated Press report, school districts would have some leeway to be able to determine if some programs are considered marketing, like Pizza Hut’s “Book It” reading program.

Outside fundraisers at fast food restaurants that benefit schools would still be allowed, but notices advertising the food at that establishment would not be allowed inside the schools.

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