Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Commercial Activities and the Promotion of Health in Schools

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Commercial Activities and the Promotion of Health in Schools

Article excerpt


commercial activities; health promotion; schools; business; healthy schools


Many companies nowadays consider schools to be an important setting for marketing to children. However, important concerns can be raised from a health promotion perspective about the potential negative impact of commercial activities on the health and well-being of pupils. As this discussion paper will demonstrate, some commercial activities raise concerns in relation to physical health and obesity, not only by potentially undermining formal curriculum messages, but also through the active promotion of specific products, particularly those high in fat, sugar or salt. Nonetheless, the issues raised by commercial activities are not solely limited to effects on physical health. By allowing commercial activities, schools risk instilling in pupils consumer-orientated values. This is significant as such values have been linked to the development of poor health and well-being. Furthermore, the presence in schools of commercial activities will also militate against informed decision-making and be disempowering. There is also evidence that business-sponsored teaching materials can contain biased and misleading information. The potential negative impacts of commercial activities are inconsistent with goals in relation to the promotion of health and the principles of health-promoting schools.


Over the last two decades there has increasingly been a blurring of the traditional boundaries between the public and private sectors In the UK, and this has particularly been the case In primary and secondary education. For example, a neoliberal market-orientated approach to education has operated In England since the 1980s. Educational reform Implemented throughout this period was Intended to Improve standards and efficiency through the Introduction of market forces and competition Into the education system.1 Other changes Included the greater adoption of business management practices from the private sector, with training In managerial techniques for headteachers, and Increased managerlal/budgetary responsibility for Individual schools.2,3

Not only have schools Increasingly been run according to the principles and practices of the private sector, but businesses have also become Involved In education In a broad range of ways, through Initiatives such as specialist schools, the academies programme and private finance Initiatives (PFI). The previous Labour Government In the UK (1997-2010) strongly supported and promoted business Involvement In education through Its policy agenda, with private sector links seen as a valuable source of expertise and additional resources.

Certainly some business Involvement appears to be motivated primarily by a genuine desire to support schools and promote pupil learning. As Larson4 pointed out, many businesses quietly provide schools with funds and other resources without receiving any commercial benefits In return. However, companies have also Increasingly become Involved with schools through a range of activities, a key purpose of which Is to serve marketing objectives and provide businesses with some form of commercial benefit. These 'commercial activities' are used as a way of promoting brand awareness and loyalty as well as generating short-term sales. This discussion paper will seek to demonstrate that commercial activities In schools are a significant concern from the perspective of health promotion owing to their potential negative Impacts on pupils. These negative Impacts relate to the marketing of specific products that are recognised to carry risks for health because they are high In fat or sugar, as well as to more general effects on children's values, decision-making, empowerment and learning.

The term 'commercial activities In schools' Is defined here as those business practices In schools that Implicitly or explicitly advertise or market products/servlces to pupils, test products on children, or promote a company, Its agenda or viewpoint on particular Issues. …

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