Senators Urge Nick to Stop Airing Junk Food Ads to Kids

Nutrition advocates convince four lawmakers to join fight

Nickelodeon is in the cross-hairs of food and nutrition advocates again, who have convinced four Democratic Senators to fire off a letter to the Viacom-owned net urging it to stop airing junk food ads. 

Healthier-eating advocates like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Berkeley Media Studies Group, Prevention Institute and others have been on a relentless campaign to single out the kid and tween-targeted network as one of the reasons kids are too fat. More than 80 health and nutrition groups tried a letter at the end of last year—when that didn't work, they took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter (Adweek's sister publication) in March that paints Nick as public enemy no. 1 when it comes to running junk-food ads. 

But maybe four Senators will have better luck convincing Nickelodeon to adopt nutrition-advertising policies such as Ion and Disney.

The Senators—Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Dick Durbin (Ill.)—cite a 2006 Institute of Medicine study that found that TV ads influenced children's food and beverage preferences and the requests they make to their parents. They also refer to a 2010 study from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity showing that Nick airs one quarter of the food ads that are viewed by kids under 12.

The CSPI has been tracking the ads airing on the net and found that seven out of 10 food ads Nick carries are for junk foods, which it says includes Cocoa Puff and Chuck E. Cheese's restaurants.

In response to the ongoing attack campaign, Nick has been touting its anti-obesity program and work with a number of organizations including First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move program, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and a marketing partnership with Birdseye that encourages kids to eat their veggies. But that hasn't been enough for the nutrition and health groups.

"Given Nickelodeon's commitment to fighting childhood obesity and responsibility to the youth that comprise your audience, we ask that the company promptly take similar action to implement strong nutrition standards for all of its marketing to children," the Senators wrote.

Nickelodeon is sticking to its guns, arguing that as an entertainment company, its first responsibility is to make high quality content. "We leave the science of nutrition to the experts," the company said in a statement. The company also noted that less than 20 percent of its advertising comes from the food category. "No entertainment brand has worked as comprehensively and with more organizations dedicated to fighting childhood obesity over the past decade than Nickelodeon."