On June 12th, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) held a meeting on its school advertising policy. The TYFPC Advocacy Committee submitted a letter in favour of adding a ban on junk- and fast-food advertising to the TDSB’s policy, which you can read below:
As representatives of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, we would like to address the current policy changes towards advertising within the Toronto District School Board. We believe this issue is critically relevant for youth, as the school environment is an influential space in which students learn to think critically about the world around them. Taking a critical lens to how the food system works is key if we are to move towards a healthier and more sustainable food system. It is therefore essential that schools both model and teach what a healthy and sustainable food system looks like through their policies and practices for students to understand the impacts that food has on their bodies, and on the environment. The importance of food for health and the environment within the school system is already apparent in such policies as the School Food and Beverage Act and in programs such as EcoSchools, and should also be given primary importance in the TDSB’s school advertising policy.
Health and Nutrition has been in the educational spotlight recently, as the Ontario Medical Association has stated that childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, from 5% to 11-13%. Much of the current focus in Ontario has been on informational aspects within curriculum, and purchasing within policies. Currently much attention has been given to the recently implemented “School Food and Beverage Policy” in Ontario schools, which sets out nutrition standards for food and beverages sold in publicly funded elementary and secondary schools in Ontario. Healthy food options must take up 80% of all food/beverages products sold in venues, products that have slightly more fat, sugar, and/or sodium must make up no more than 20% of food sold in school venues, and food/beverages that have no nutrient value whatsoever must not be permitted for sale.
Along with the “School Food and Beverage Policy”, food and nutrition is implemented within the health and physical education curriculum under the “Healthy Eating” strand of the “Healthy Living” section. Within this strand, from Grade 1 to Grade 8 students learn to “examine their own food choices and eating patterns and then make decisions and set appropriate goals, while working within parameters that they can control.” By grade 8, students are supposed to be able to “evaluate personal food choices on the basis of a variety of criteria, including serving size, nutrient content, energy value, and ingredients” and “identify strategies for promoting healthy eating within the school, home, and community”.
An advertising policy should be consistent with the current focus towards promoting healthy food environments and informed food choices in educational policies and practices. Allowing advertising from large food corporations that promote nutrient-poor, high fat, high calorie and high sugar foods would be counterproductive to the school board’s current goals and objectives. As such, the TYFPC would recommend that a ban on junk- and fast-food advertising be included in the policy, and would signal that the board is committed to creating a school environment that is consistent with its stated goals and objectives.
Elementary and secondary schools are a vital space in which systemic change to create resilient, sustainable, and healthy food systems can be aimed towards. This is reflected in current policies regarding the sales of food and beverages within schools, and within food education curriculum as well. We believe it is important that these values are also reflected within the advertising policies that are in the process of being implemented, as well.