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Got concerns over milk ads?


Jessica LaDow

Erie Times News

May 27, 2008

Every school day, images of Spider-Man, Build-a-Bear, Elliot Yamin, Rascal Flatts and others encourage 12,000 Erie School District students to drink milk.

The images, according to representatives for the agency that creates them, are meant to encourage students to drink milk instead of sugary alternatives, and to make healthy life choices in the cafeteria.

"What we really want is to make sure students drink milk," said MilkMedia CEO Richard Long.

But the question being asked by parents, school officials who order the milk and even the dairies that distribute it is whether this type of in-school promotion is appropriate.

"If I was a parent, I would be concerned about what was being marketed to my child on my milk carton," said Erie schools Superintendent Jim Barker. "This is a very subtle way of bringing very powerful messages into schools and putting them in front of kids."

Promoting milk is a good thing, according to Meadow Brook Dairy and school district officials, but advertising for outside companies is not. A representative from Dean Foods, Meadow Brook's parent company, announced Thursday that it is looking into phasing out all Build-a-Bear ads on the cartons that they distribute because they object to the content being advertised.

"What we liked about the other ones was it was a direct message to drink milk, and this one was one step away from what we don't want," said Marguerite Copel, vice president of communications for Dean Foods.

The Build-a-Bear cartons promote the Web site, where students are encouraged to log on and sign up for an online pet. A special code is listed on cartons that rewards students with free virtual milk cartons for their pets.

"We certainly don't want any advertising that is asking someone to buy something or give information. That's certainly very inappropriate," said Jim Twerdok, director of food services for the Erie School District.

Long said the Web site is completely kid-friendly and complies to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires they do not request and do not get any personal information about a child unless they have parental consent or are older than 13 and consent to that.

The promotions are managed by a partnership between Dean Foods and Meadow Brook, MilkMedia and MilkRocks and the packaging company Evergreen, Long said. The Erie School District does not receive any profit.

Long and MilkRocks spokesman Erik Stein said the MilkRocks program has reached more than 24 million students per day and has always received positive feedback since it started in September.

Denise Vanderstraeten, the mother of a fifth-grader at Harding Elementary School, said children are regularly exposed to a lot of advertising and that advertising milk doesn't bother her.

"I personally don't care as long as it's kid-friendly," she said.

Laurie Brady agrees that milk should be required in schools, but doesn't like that her children are targeted at school where she can't regulate what they are shown.

"I'm just surprised there are ads, even if it does have to do with milk," said Brady, the parent of two Harding students.

Brady, who runs an in-home day-care center, said she isn't sure if she supports or opposes the program since the main promotion is for milk.

"If a child's toy is trying to promote milk, I guess that's OK," she said.




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