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Government: Cut out junk food ads in schools

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

WASHINGTON - It's not just about what America's kids are getting in the lunch line.

The Obama administration is moving to phase out junk food advertising on football scoreboards and elsewhere on school grounds - part of a broad effort to combat child obesity and create what Michelle Obama calls "a new norm" for today's schoolchildren and future generations.

"This new approach to eating and activity is not just a fad," Mrs. Obama said Tuesday as she described the proposed rules at the White House.

Promotion of sugary drinks and junk foods around campuses during the school day would be phased out under the Agriculture Department rules, which are intended to ensure that marketing is brought in line with health standards that already apply to food served by public schools.

That means a scoreboard at a high school football or basketball game eventually wouldn't be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, though it could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water, also owned by Coca-Cola Co. Same with the front of a vending machine. Cups, posters and menu boards that promote foods that don't meet federal standards would also be phased out.

Ninety-three percent of such marketing in schools is related to beverages. And many soda companies already have started to transition their sales and advertising in schools from sugary sodas and sports drinks to other products they produce. Companies are spending $149 million a year on marketing to kids in schools, according to the Agriculture Department.

The announcement at the White House was part of a week of events marking the fourth anniversary of the first lady's "Let's Move" program. Mrs. Obama was appearing later Tuesday at a Miami recreation center with actress Amy Poehler to talk about helping children pursue healthy activities outside of school.

The proposed rules come on the heels of federal regulations that now require food in school lunch lines to be more healthful than in the past.

Separate rules, which are to go into effect in September, will cover other food around school as well, including in vending machines and "a la carte" lines in the lunch room. Calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits now will have to be met on almost every food and beverage sold during the school day, as mandated by a 2010 child nutrition law.

Even though diet sodas would be allowed in high schools under the proposed rules announced Tuesday, the rules don't address the question raised by some as to whether those drinks are actually healthful alternatives to sugary soda.

Some healthful-food rules have come under fire from conservatives who say the government shouldn't dictate what kids eat - and from some students who don't like the new alternatives.

Aware of the backlash, the Agriculture Department is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions on what constitutes marketing and is 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.

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