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Mass Rep. wants less ads in education
By Neil Freese / Daily News Tribune
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

BOSTON -- Troubled by the growth of commercial advertising in public schools that peddles everything from snack foods to sneakers, a local legislator is leading an effort to regulate such hype during school hours.

"Children are being marketed to at an ever-increasing rate," said state Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Waltham, who is sponsoring a bill that would establish an independent commission to regulate marketing in public schools.

The proposed commission would bring together teachers, school administration officials, parents and legislators to rule on how much, and what types of commercialism are acceptable.

Under this proposal, ads targeted for municipal football stadiums, school buses or cafeterias would need the commission's approval before reaching elementary, middle and high schools. Corporate contracts, like those signed with Coca-Cola and Pepsi to set up vending machines on campuses, would also require endorsement by the commission.

At a public hearing last Thursday, Koutoujian told the Education Committee that such oversight would "ensure that schools remain a safe haven for our children."

But the joint committee expressed concern about the makeup of the proposed commission. Co-chairman Sen. Robert A. Antonioni, D-Leominster, questioned the authority of individuals from the private sector -- administrators, teachers and parents -- to establish regulations independent from the board of education.

"Putting my lawyer's hat on, it looks like your giving them the power to make regulations," said Antonioni, who at the end of the hearing agreed to work with Koutoujian on crafting an appropriate commission with appropriate powers.

Supporters of the proposal claim advertising used in public schools has been especially harmful to students because they are a "captive audience," and that the growing phenomenon desperately needs oversight.

Dr. Susan Linn, a psychiatry instructor from Harvard Medical School who studies the effects of commercials on children, told the Education Committee that marketing to students is particularly insidious because it bypasses parents and holds unique influence.

"Even children who don't like school know that it is supposed to be good for them," said Linn. "Any product marketed in school carries that school's endorsement."

But while in-school marketing is blamed for an array of ills, such as obesity and youth violence, it's hard to disentangle the effects of one type of advertising from another. Linn admitted that marketing permeates every aspect of society, and that children encounter advertising outside of school watching televsion, reading magazines and using the Internet -- activities they engage in 40 hours per week on average.

Koutoujian's efforts come despite a lack of in-school marketing in his city, Waltham.

In Waltham scoreboards and school buses don't carry ads. Soda machines are turned off during school hours, and classes don't carry Channel One, a daily television news program containing ads that is broadcast directly into classrooms.

Cafeteria food is prepared in-house -- branded fast-food lunches like McDonald's are not offered in Waltham schools -- and vending machines offer healthy options, like pita chips, baked chips and pretzels.

"We just don't have that much advertising," said Dave King, Business manager for Waltham Public Schools.

Bill supporters say that each school district is different, and while Waltham schools aren't negatively affected by ads, other students shouldn't be left to protect themselves from advertising.

"As adults, we have the ability to filter commercial images and advertising," said Koutoujian. "However, we must realize that most of our children have not yet developed skills to view advertising as a slanted presentation."

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Read the Text of the Bill

Testimony of CCFC's Dr. Susan Linn

Testimony of CCFC's Josh Golin

Testimony of Dr. Juliet Schor

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