School fundraiser restrictions

Local schools or governments can prohibit the sale of unhealthy foods such as sugar sweetened beverages, candy, and other non-nutritious snacks at school fundraisers. Such a policy can be enacted on its own or included as a component of a school district nutrition policy or government regulation. Federal regulation establishes minimum nutrition guidelines for foods and beverages sold during school hours for fundraisers, with some exemptions at the state level. Substantial amounts of unhealthy foods and beverages can become part of the school food environment through fundraisers, school celebrations, and classroom rewards (Caparosa 2014*, BTG-Turner 2016).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced access to unhealthy foods

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved health outcomes

Evidence of Effectiveness

School fundraiser restrictions prohibiting the sale of unhealthy foods and beverages are a suggested strategy to decrease access to such foods, improve the school food environment, and support student health (USDA-School fundraisers, CDC-Smart snacks). One study suggests small school districts are less likely than large school districts to have established school fundraiser restrictions (Merlo 2018). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

The need to raise funds is often cited as a barrier to implementing school fundraiser restrictions (Longley 2009*); however, many alternative strategies such as a-thons (e.g., walk-a-thons, jog-a-thons, dance-a-thons, read-a-thons, etc.), auctions, raffles, events (e.g., talent shows, dances, recycling drives, etc.), healthy food sales, or school spirit item sales can raise funds (BTG-Turner 2016, NYC Health-Healthy fundraisers 2010, CT SDE-Healthy fundraising 2015).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of 2014-2015, the federal Smart Snacks in School regulation requires that all foods and beverages sold in school during the school day meet minimum nutrition guidelines, which includes foods and beverages sold during school hours for fundraisers, unless items are not intended for consumption at school or have been exempted at the state level (e.g., some states have policies that exempt a certain number of in-school fundraisers from Smart Snack standards). Federal policy does not limit fundraisers selling nonfood items, foods that meet Smart Snack standards, food intended to be consumed outside of school, or fundraisers during non-school hours, on weekends, or at off-campus events (USDA-Smart snacks guide 2019).

Many schools across the country are trying alternatives to selling unhealthy foods at fundraisers; the Center for Science in the Public Interest has collected examples of healthy food fundraisers in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas (CSPI-Success stories).

Implementation Resources

CSPI-Healthy fundraisers - Johanson J, Wootan MG. Sweet deals: School fundraising can be healthy and profitable. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); 2007.

HSC-Healthy fundraising - Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC). Fit to learn tip sheet: Healthy fundraising.

Litchfield-Non-food alternatives - Litchfield R, Nelson D, Lenahan J. Non-food alternatives for school rewards and fundraising. Ames: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; 2009.

Winslow-Gibbons-Healthy alternatives 2008 - Winslow-Gibbons H. Healthy alternatives for school celebrations, rewards, fundraisers and snacks. Kansas City: Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), KC Healthy Kids; 2008.

USDA-Smart snacks tools - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service. Tools for schools: Focusing on Smart Snacks.

AFHG-Fundraising - Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AFHG). Fundraising: Healthy FUNdraising for schools.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

USDA-School fundraisers - US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Smart snacks in school: Fundraisers

CDC-Smart snacks - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC healthy schools: Smart snacks. What are competitive foods?

Merlo 2018 - Merlo CL, Michael S, Brener ND, et al. State-level guidance and district-level policies and practices for food marketing in US school districts. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2018;15:E74.

Longley 2009* - Longley CH, Sneed J. Effects of federal legislation on wellness policy formation in school districts in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109(1):95-101.

BTG-Turner 2016 - Turner L, Chriqui JF, Terry-McElrath Y. School fundraisers: Positive changes in foods sold, but room for improvement remains. Durham, NC: Healthy Eating Research, Bridging the Gap (BTG) Issue Brief; 2016.

NYC Health-Healthy fundraisers 2010 - East & Central Harlem District Public Health Office (NYC Health), Strategic Alliance for Health (SAFH). Yes, you can! A fresh look at healthy fundraisers for schools. 2010.

CT SDE-Healthy fundraising 2015 - Connecticut State Department of Education (CT SDE). Healthy fundraising: Promoting a healthy school environment. 2015.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

USDA-Smart snacks guide 2019 - US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Help make the healthy choice the easy choice for kids at school: A Guide to Smart Snacks in School for school year 2019-2020. 2019.

CSPI-Success stories - Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Healthy school fundraising success stories. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); 2012.

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