Junk School Nation

by Philip Farruggio

[Please note: most of the information obtained for this column was from the excellent new book “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, subtitled “The Dark Side of the All-American Meal”. Read it!–PF]

Our media trumpets for us, repeatedly, the new “War on Terror”. Yet, one never hears about the decades old battle we are losing–the “War on our Children’s Health”.

It all started out with television:

In 1978 the Federal Trade Commission attempted to ban all television ads directed at children 7 years and younger. Studies had concluded that young children could not tell the difference between TV programming and TV advertising–therefore not comprehending the real purpose of commercials. In fact the kids believed the advertising claims to be totally true (“if its on TV it must be true”). Michael Pertschuk, then head of the FTC (where are you now that we really need you?) argued that children needed to be protected from advertising that preyed upon their immaturity. Most progressive organizations supported this thinking wholeheartedly. Not good enough! Lobbyists representing the Nat’l Assoc. of Broadcasters, the toy manufacturers, and the Assoc. of Nat’l Advertisers aka “we donate to your election campaigns, you listen” attacked the plan with vigor. In April 1981 (3 months after “free market voodoo economics” Reagan’s inaugeration) an FTC staff report stated that such a ban on ads aimed at children would be impractical, thus virtually killing the proposal. Yet today’s typical American child spends, on average, 21 hours a week watching TV–thereby being “bombarded” with commercials pushing products to a) ruin their health, b) rot their teeth and gums, and c)empty their parents pocketbooks.

The fast food industry was not content at marketing their junk food to our kids through television, the internet, videos, publications, cartoons, playgrounds and movies. No, they wanted to get into our public education system as well! In 1993, District 11 of the Colorado Springs Public School system was experiencing what most public school systems face: lower education revenues, due to higher enrollments and less tax dollars. Now, before I discuss the “brilliant” District 11 solution, lets examine how further education dollars can be raised through sound, practical and healthy means. What if our gov’t reduced “overkill” defense spending, gutted the foolish “pork barrel” Strategic Defense Shield and transferred most of the above expenditures to the states to upgrade public education? Why not raise federal and state corporate taxes, lets say a teeny weeny bit? (By the way, federal corporate tax rates in 1950 topped off at around 49%–by 1995, due to loopholes in the tax code, they dropped to around 26%.) In states with no income tax, institute a 1 or 2% tax for corporations with over 100 employees, and a 1 or 2% tax on individuals earning in the top 1 or 2% of that state’s population–all for eduction improvements (how’s that “Mr. Education President”?). Just to set the record straight, in 1972 the top federal individual income tax rate was at 70%–its now around 39.6%. So I am sure that the top earners in this nation can afford to pay 1 or 2% higher in the name of our children’s education.

Back to “sur-reality”–here’s what District 11 did, which started a nationwide “epidemic”. They cut a deal with Burger King to allow the “Whopper” to place ads in school hallways and on the sides of school buses. The contract only netted the district $37,500 that year- a little more than $1.00 per student. So, in 1996, the district hired professional marketer Dan DeRose (a man who will go down in nutrition “infamy”). DeRose, through his company D&D Marketing of Pueblo CO, developed ad packages for corporate sponsors seeking to crack the public school market. For $12k a fast food company got 5 school bus ads, hallway ads in all 52 of the district’s schools, ads in the school newspapers, a stadium banner, commercials on the stadium PA system during games, and finally, free tickets to high school games for use as marketing inducements.

Within one year, DeRose had tripled the school district’s ad revenues. Then, in 1997, he brokered a 10 year deal with Coca-Cola, making Coke the district’s exclusive beverage supplier. Obviously, the monies “poured in’ almost as quickly as the soda “poured out”. The question is, at whose expense? Fact: children spend about 7 hours per day, 152 days per year, in school. Fact: they cannot “turn off” the fast food commericals on their internal school TV, or those same commercials on their hallway music station. And they cannot help but continually, each and everyday, gaze at the hallway ads as they go from classroom to classroom (talk about brainwashing). Then, factor in the vending machines at the school, the reason your little Johnny and Jan carry all those quarters. In those machines kids can choose from soda & candy bars laced with sugar (one soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar), plus caffeine drinks that can “wire” the most complacent child (and they complain about the behavior problems of today’s youth). Opponents to DeRose’s “Pandora’s box” argue that schoolchildren are a “captive audience” for marketeers, compelled by law to attend school and face this advertising “bombardment’ as a means of paying for their much so that the 1997 Kids Power Marketing Conference brochure stated “Discover your own river of revenues at the schoolhouse gates!” I kid you not!

So, what has been the “downslide’ of this slippery slope our “educators” now choose to climb? According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in 1978 the typical American teenage boy drank about 7 ozs. of soda each day- today he consumes nearly three times that amount! Soda consumption amongst teen girls has nearly doubled during that 1978-98 period. Many teenagers today drink 5 or more cans of soda per day- excessive soda consumption can lead to calcium deficiencies,which offer greater likelihood for bone fractures (hear that sports coaches?). In 1978 teenage boys drank as much milk as soda–now its twice as much soda as milk! Even toddlers have jumped onto this “junk bandwagon”. Studies now have shown that about one in five of our 1 and 2 year olds drink soda as well. Wait’ll they get to school!!

So, there you have it. Isn’t it time for those of us not “hooked” on this junk food syndrome to get together? Isn’t it time we really “take our schools back” from the hucksters and the corporate “pushers” who indoctrinate our youth with eating habits that may last most of their lives? Read the book “Fast Food Nation” by Schlosser and get serious. Those arches are not made of gold!!

Philip Farruggio, son of a longshoreman, is “Blue Collar Brooklyn” born, raised and educated (Brooklyn College, Class of ’74). A former progressive talk show host, Philip runs a mfg. rep. business and writes for many publications. He lives in Port Orange, FL. You can contact Mr. Farruggio at e-mail: brooklynphilly@aol.com.

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