Health Education Compromised By School Fundraising
High-fat, sugar foods in schools too often the price paid for lucrative sponsorships, study finds
Fundraising activities of many schools are undermining classroom health education and endorsing consumption of high
fat/sugar foods. That’s one of the key findings of University of Otago research published in this month’s edition of the
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
“Schools work hard for their status as a valued and respected part of the community. We need to openly discuss the
degree to which sponsoring companies should be allowed to promote or provide high fat, high sugar products to their
‘captive audience’ of students,” said Ms Rose Richards of Otago’s Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, one of
the study’s authors.
The Sponsorship and Fundraising in New Zealand Schools project, carried out by Otago researchers based in the Social and
Behavioural Research in Cancer Group, describes the sponsorship, incentive and fundraising initiatives that schools are
currently participating in and examines the products and messages delivered to students as a result. Principals of 77
primary/intermediate schools and 87 secondary/area schools were surveyed.
The study found that most schools were involved in some form of sponsorship, incentive and fundraising partnerships,
though the majority did not have an agreed policy or process to guide this participation. Practices of particular
concern involved the promotion and sale of food products with high fat and/or sugar content to students (in the case of
vending machines) and the wider school community (via fundraising products).
Around one third of secondary schools reported having vending machines on school property, which supplied soft drinks,
other unspecified drinks, and food. Products sold for fundraising were predominantly food items likely to be high in
sugar and/or fat, with 58% of all products sold by primary/intermediate schools and 62% of all products sold by
secondary schools falling into this category.
In Stage 2 of the study, preliminary findings from this study were forwarded to key stakeholders in health and education
for comment. Stakeholder feedback included concerns about the widespread sale of high fat and/or sugar products by
schools for two reasons:
- it implies that schools endorse consumption of these products,
- and ‘healthy nutrition’ messages are potentially undermined by in-school advertising and supply of soft drinks, or by
students having to sell products that are high in fat and/or sugar to family, friends and the local community.
Some stakeholders called for policies or legislation to help guide decision-making and to ensure that the wider
implications of partnerships are taken into account. Another key issue identified was the need for alternative sources
of funding to replace current undesirable initiatives.
“Realistically, given existing financial pressures on schools, any undesirable partnerships need effective and lucrative
replacements” said Ms Richards. “It may be that the health sector has a role to play in lobbying for adequate school
funding so schools are not forced unwillingly to choose between health and education outcomes”.