Senators letter to Nickelodeon

On Monday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter to cable-TV network Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom Inc., calling for healthier food marketing. Photo by Richard Blumenthal.

On Monday, three U.S. senators sent a letter to cable-TV network Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom Inc., in an effort to change their marketing of unhealthy food to children.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) recommended change in the station’s marketing practices, citing Nickelodeon’s influence — it airs one-fourth of food advertisements seen by children under 12 years old — and an Institute of Medicine report showing that the foods advertising affects children’s diets and overall health.

Additionally, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that in 2012, nearly 70 percent of food ads aired on Nickelodeon are for junk foods.

“Over the past three decades, childhood obesity has doubled among children and tripled among adolescents,” the letter states. “As a leading multimedia entertainment destination for children and adolescents, Nickelodeon has a special opportunity — and responsibility — to help address our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. We ask that you implement a clear policy to guide the marketing of food to children on Nickelodeon’s various media platforms, including the advertisements on your channels, Internet sites and mobile platforms.”

In 2012, APHA signed on to a similar letter to Nickelodeon and Viacom, saying their advertising content “contradicts the network’s claim that since 2002 it has made childhood obesity a filter by which it reviews all our business initiatives.” It adds that Nickelodeon should either join food giants such as McDonald’s USA, the Coca-Cola Company and Nestle by adopting uniform nutrition criteria in its advertisements, or accept federal guidelines — which seeks to limit saturated and trans fats, added sugar and sodium intake — proposed by the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nickelodeon also has precedent to guide its advertising policies; in 2012, the Walt Disney Company announced its acceptance of nutrition guidelines promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, and reduction of calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

“Nickelodeon has a responsibility, but also an opportunity, to make a positive difference in the health of children,” Blumenthal said.

In a policy statement, APHA recommends legislation targeting children’s television ads and collaboration among nonprofit and government organizations to develop marketing guidelines.