Local schools respond to federal rules wanting to cut out junk food ads

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The White House proposed new rules Tuesday to limit how schools are allowed to market sugary drinks and junk food to students during school hours and school-related activities.

But Portland Public Schools already complies with proposed federal guidelines to limit junk food marketing in schools, according to the district's senior policy adviser, Jon Isaacs.

"This is an area we were ahead of the curve over a decade ago," Isaacs said. "It doesn't make any sense to be promoting healthy food choices and then allow advertising all over your school that would undermine what you're trying to do."

The proposed federal guidelines, which are part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, would remove advertisements of sugary drinks or unhealthy food from school walls, scoreboards, vending machines and plates and cups.

Isaacs said the district hasn't made money off marketing in several years.

"Whether it loses revenue or gains revenue for us is not a consideration," Isaacs said. "What's important for us is what's best for our students, and in this case it's healthy choices and healthy lifestyles."

While he said there are not ads in any schools, KATU News found a Coca-Cola logo in the corner of a vending machine at Benson High School. The machine doesn't sell soda and doesn't have pictures of sugary drinks, so it's unclear if the logo alone would be allowed under the new rules.

Other districts have more obvious changes to make under the new guidelines.

Some scoreboards at high school sporting venues in the Salem-Keizer School District have Pepsi logos that may have to come down if the rules go into place. A district spokesperson said it's not a big deal, since the sign no longer makes the district money. If there is any financial consequence, it would not be promoting booster club sales at games.

Evergreen Public Schools may have students figure out how to make their student stores comply with the new rules, and both Evergreen and Beaverton school districts would look into replacing some vending machine branding.

The healthier food rules have come under fire from conservatives who think the government shouldn't dictate what kids eat and from some students who don't like the healthier foods.

Aware of the backlash, the USDA is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions on what constitutes marketing and asking for comments on some options. For example, the proposal asks for comments on initiatives like Pizza Hut's "Book It" program, which coordinates with schools to reward kids with pizza for reading.

Rules for other school fundraisers, like bake sales and marketing for those events, would be left up to schools or states.

Off-campus fundraisers, like an event at a local fast-food outlet that benefits a school, still would be permitted. But posters advertising the fast food may not be allowed in school hallways. An email to parents with or without the advertising would have to suffice. The idea is to market to the parents, not the kids.

The rule also makes allowances for major infrastructure costs that scoreboard advertising Coca-Cola, for example, wouldn't have to be immediately torn down. But the school would have to get one with a healthier message the next time it was replaced.

The beverage industry led by Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo is on board with the move. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the healthier drinks that will be offered in schools is the "logical next step."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.