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Schoolhouse Commercialism May Cost Student Health, Report Says

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From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

As education budgets become increasingly tight, the temptation for schools to turn to commercial sponsorships for funds is heightened. The physical, psychological, and health costs of such partnerships, though, might be harming students more than they help them.

A new report from the National Education Policy Center, titled Promoting Consumption at School: Health Threats Associated with Schoolhouse Commercialism, details the effects that exposure to corporate commercializing activities in school settings has on students. It urges policymakers to only allow advertising in schools if the advertising program is proven to cause no harm to children.

The report cited a previous study by Public Citizen that found that profits from commercial sponsorships usually accounted for no more than one percent of each district's budget.

Advertising in schools comes in many forms. The report identifies seven in particular:
•Appropriation of space on school property,
•Exclusive agreements,
•Sponsorship of school programs,
•Sponsorship of supplementary educational materials,
•Digital marketing,
•Sponsorship of incentive programs, and
•Fundraising

The report pointed to childhood obesity as the most significant health threat posed by advertising in schools and it is a problem that states and the federal government continue to address through regulation. Unfortunately, the foods advertised within schools tended to be of little nutritional value—the types of foods linked to childhood obesity, which has negative effects the health and social development of children.

Commercialism, which advertising inherently promotes, is also linked to health costs by distorting childhood development, according to the study: "Materialistic values encouraged by consumer culture are associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, psychological distress, chronic physical symptoms, and lower self-esteem. In teenagers, higher materialistic values also correlate with increased smoking, drinking, drug use, weapon carrying, vandalism, and truancy."

According to the report, commercial contracts with schools might even undermine the very thing they are meant to promote: education. When commercial sponsors become involved in curriculum, academic content is often sacrificed for brand messaging, discouraging questioning and critical thinking skills.

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