Testimony to the School Board (Nov. 7, 2001)
My name is Patricia Manuel. I am a registered dietitian and hold a Masters degree in public health nutrition. I am here to talk to you about the commercialism policy that is currently before you for consideration. I have a student in the Seattle School District.
There is a national epidemic of obesity in our American society, and this is as true for individuals under 18, our youth, as it is for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commonly referred to as CDC, currently estimates that 10-15% of youths ages 6-17 years are in the overweight category.
Obesity has many causes--genes, activity level and calorie, or energy, intake. Our genes do not change with one generation, so that cannot account for the increasing rates. That leaves energy intake and energy output.
Not only are more and more kids heavy, and I use Body Mass Index or BMI as my standard here, but it affects the health of more children every year. The Odessa Brown Clinic here in Seattle is documenting that there are increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes among children in early adolescence. This is not the type of diabetes where the body stops producing insulin but the kind where the amount of insulin produced is inadequate due to insulin resistance caused by high levels of fat stored in the body.
We live in an environment that is increasingly obesigenic, or leading to obesity. We move less and we eat more. And almost everything around us encourages us to do so.
Commercialism is a factor in this, especially in food intake. The food industry wants us to consume more and more empty calories, primarily inexpensive fats and sugars. The marketing of pizza, doughnuts, candy, potato and corn chips, and super-sized portions of fast foods and sodas are all part of this.
Society, and the medical establishment, has long considered weight to be a personal responsibility. Advice is given to the individual who has a weight problem, and the expectation is that the individual will fix the problem. But research over the last twenty years has shown that weight loss is harder to achieve and maintain than doctors ever thought.
There are costs to society associated with these increased rates of obesity. These include increased chronic disease risk, morbidity and mortality--as well as high medical, psychological and social costs of obesity.
All of the issues surrounding obesity argue for prevention as the primary approach, and in particular the prevention of excessive weight gain starting as early in life as possible.
Therefore, I strongly ask you to consider the health of Seattle's children when you decide your vote on this commercialism policy. Seattle's schools should provide an environment where kids can be healthy. I thank you for your time in considering this very important policy.
I have brought you an article which may help you think a little more about obesity as a public health issue.
(Provided them with Halting the Obesity Epidemic: A Public Health Policy Approach, Marion Nestle PhD, MPH and Michael Jacobsen PhD, Public Health Reports, Jan/Feb 2000, Vol. 115.)
Good Evening. The Citizens' Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools is very pleased that this School Board is on the verge of prohibiting advertising in Seattle Schools. -- reflecting the concerns of thousands of parents, teachers, and other community members and organizations.
Tonight, we urge you to strengthen this policy by clearly prohibiting logos of corporate sponsors, as well.
Many businesses support Seattle schools by volunteering, mentoring, and contributing supplies, services, or cash. A look at the website of the Alliance for Education will show hundreds of companies and business people who already support our schools financially and in other ways . Businesses also support school activities through donations to the PTAs. Most businesses offer their support with no strings attached.
Some companies, however, offer to sponsor 'programs' or activities in exchange for exposing Seattle = schoolchildren to their company logos and ads. Agreeing to such conditions is tantamount to selling access to the kids.
Let's talk about the Sonics. I used to be a big fan of Dennis Johnson and Downtown Freddie Brown. Today, the district has a 'Read to Succeed' program sponsored by the Sonics Corporation, found in many elementary and middle schools. This program exposes thousands of children to Sonics logos on a daily basis through its 'reading homework' card In fact, this card is used to display the logos of several other corporations (although district personnel tell me they don't know why). [SHOW CARD HERE] Students are also exposed to the Sonics logo on promotional merchandise distributed as 'prizes'. Recently, the Sonics have been giving out bookcases festooned with their logos.
Surprisingly, this corporate 'sponsorship' does not bring any real dollars into the district at all.
One can argue about the pedagogical benefits of such external incentive programs. Given the lack of any evaluation process of the Sonics program, we are taking on faith the idea that this program MAY be helping children.
What we do know for sure is that the Sonics are exposing children to corporate images every day. What we also know is that some amount of public employee time is going to administer this program at the district and building levels.
One Section of the draft policy shifts decisions about logos of corporate sponsors to building personnel. Passing this decision on to principals is not a solution. Principals in low-income area schools will be greatly tempted to exchange access to children for 'free stuff' or cash donations for their schools. The result will be that low-income children will be disproportionately affected by corporate branding in schools.
The solution is simple. Logos are a form of commercial activity intended to build name recognition and brand loyalty. The district must include a prohibition of logos of corporate sponsors in its district-wide ban on advertising in schools.