June 10, 2013
WASHINGTONNickelodeon, the children's television network, faces pressure from Capitol Hill to scrap advertisements promoting junk food.
In a letter, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) urged the top executives of Nickelodeon and its parent company Viacom, Inc. to implement nutrition standards that resemble a move announced one year ago by Walt Disney Corp.
"Like other companies, Disney has found success in focusing their food marketing on healthy foods that contribute to the health and fitness of their viewers," the senators wrote. "Given Nickelodeons 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 raised concerns over increasing rates of childhood obesity, which is said to have doubled over the past three decades.
Nickelodeon has a significant influence over kids when it comes to food, the senators indicated, citing a Yale University study that found Nickelodeon airs one quarter of food advertisements that are viewed by children under the age of 12.
"Nickelodeon is in a key position to help safeguard the health and well-being of our kids, and your decisions on what products are permitted to be advertised through your network have an impact on our childrens diets and long-term health prospects," the senators wrote.
However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a health and nutrition advocacy group, has criticized the network for marketing unhealthy foods.
"In 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 69 percent of foods advertised on Nickelodeon were of poor nutritional quality, including fast foods, sugary cereals, and sweet snacks," according to the senators' letter.
Earlier this year, CSPI ratcheted up its assault on Nickelodeon and Viacom with a new ad slamming the media company for allowing characters from its popular TV shows to appear on snack food packaging targeting children. The ad was launched months after CSPI urged Nickelodeon and Viacom executives to join the Council for Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising initiative. The initiative promotes a baseline set of standards for food marketing to young children.
"Nickelodeons failure to make progress on a food marketing policy that protect kids health is really taking a toll on the companys reputation," CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wootan said in a statement today. "As long as Nickelodeon lags behind the rest of the industry, the companys behavior is likely to come under even greater scrutiny from parents, shareholders, regulators, and members of Congress."
A spokesperson for Nickelodeon did not immediately respond this afternoon to an emailed request for comment on the senators' letter and CSPI's allegations.
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