case study

Nutritious School Meals for All Students: Good for Health, Good for Education

The Challenge

During the COVID-19 pandemic, every child in America was eligible for school meals at no cost, regardless of family income level — no forms, no questions asked. That policy kept millions of children and families from going hungry. But that support ended at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year — despite soaring food prices and rising rates of nutrition and food insecurity.

There are still opportunities to right this wrong: the U.S. Department of Agriculture can strengthen the nutrition standards for the meals that are served in school and Congress can reauthorize the law that governs child nutrition programs to help millions of children gain access to healthy school meals.

Our Approach

When it became clear that Congress was not going to continue providing school meals at no cost to every student, Burness worked with the American Heart Association to launch a full-scale multimedia campaign to make an urgent case on why it should. This campaign was targeted at D.C. policymakers as well as certain states and districts throughout the country with a “Take Action for School Meals” call to action. It included:

  • Developing and executing a creative concept, including messaging and illustrated still and animated ads.
  • Six-figure, multi-platform digital advertising plan, including paid social, paid search and placements in food-centric trade publications and policy outlets.
  • Earned media promotion elevating Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.

Results and Impact

The goals of the campaign were twofold: a) to raise visibility of AHA and the issue of school meals; and b) to get supporters to send messages to their policymakers. The campaign started with a countdown campaign in the Hagstrom Report, which had a daily clock reminding readers how many days were left until school meals for all students expired. It continued with a powerful opinion editorial in ABC News: “An Avoidable Hunger Crisis Still Looms for Millions of Children,” where Nancy Brown teamed up with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President Richard Besser to outline a roadmap for the long-term improvement of vital school meal programs. 

The digital advertising campaign generated more than 160 million impressions and thousands of letters to Congress in support of healthy school meals for all. AHA’s work — combined with the work of critical partners — has kept healthy school meals for all in the mix as part of the reauthorization of the child nutrition programs but also end-of-year budget deals. 

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