Most Food Ads on Nickelodeon Still for Junk Food

Self-Regulation Proving Insufficient to Protect Children, Says CSPI


WASHINGTON—Nearly 80 percent of food ads on the popular children's network Nickelodeon are for foods of poor nutritional quality, according to an analysis conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That represents a modest and not quite statistically significant drop from 2005, when CSPI researchers found that about 90 percent of food ads on Nick were for junk food. Between the 2005 and 2009 studies, the food industry instituted a self-regulatory program through the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

CSPI also examined the practices of the food companies that participate in that self-regulatory program. Of the 452 foods and beverages that companies say are acceptable to market to children, CSPI found that 267, or nearly 60 percent, do not meet CSPI's recommended nutrition standards for food marketing to children, such as General Mills' Cookie Crisp and Reese’s Puffs cereals, Kellogg Apple Jacks and Cocoa Krispies cereals, Kellogg Rice Krispies Treats, Campbell's Goldfish crackers and SpaghettiOs, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and many Unilever Popsicles.

"While industry self-regulation is providing some useful benchmarks, it's clearly not shielding children from junk food advertising, on Nick and elsewhere," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "It's a modest start, but not sufficient to address children’s poor eating habits and the sky-high rates of childhood obesity."

Of the foods companies say are appropriate to market to children, no puddings, cookies, or fruit-flavored snacks meet CSPI's nutrition standards, but 73 percent of yogurts did. Other foods that meet CSPI's standards include Nabisco Teddy Grahams, Kellogg Frosted Mini-Wheats, Kellogg Eggo Waffles, and several Kid Cuisine frozen dinners. Most beverages (64 percent), such as fruit drinks with little fruit juice, sports drinks, and high-fat milk, didn't meet CSPI’s nutrition standards.

None of the 10 products PepsiCo says are appropriate to market to children actually are according to CSPI’s standards. Only three of 47 Kraft-approved products, one of eight McDonald’s-approved meals, and 22 of 86 General Mills-approved products met CSPI's standards. Burger King only identified one meal as appropriate to market to children at the time of the study—a Kids Meal with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, apple fries with caramel sauce, and a Hershey's 1 percent milk, which also met CSPI's standards. Four companies that belong to the CFBAI (Coca-Cola, Hershey's, Mars, and Cadbury Adams) state that they do not advertise any products to children (according to the CBBB definition).

Of the food ads on Nickelodeon, a fourth were from companies that don't participate in the industry's self-regulatory program. Almost none of those ads were for foods that met CSPI's nutrition standards, and only 28 percent of the ads from companies in the CBBB Initiative met them.

In 2006, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine recommended that food and media companies shift the mix of foods marketed to youth toward healthier foods within two years. Currently, an Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, including representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is developing nutrition standards for foods marketed to children. Those are expected in July of 2010, and CSPI is urging the Council of Better Business Bureaus to adopt them for the CFBAI.

CSPI also has urged Chuck E. Cheese's, IHOP restaurants, Topps Candy, Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) and Perfetti van Melle (maker of Air Heads candy) to join the CFBAI. Nickelodeon and other media companies should also have comprehensive policies covering all their food marketing aimed at children.

"Nickelodeon should be ashamed that it earns so much money from carrying commercials that promote obesity, diabetes, and other health problems in young children," Wootan said. "If media and food companies don't do a better job exercising corporate responsibility when they market foods to children, Congress and the FTC will need to step in to protect kids’ health."

CSPI's nutrition standards include reasonable limits on saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars and encourage the presence of key vitamins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. CSPI says that ideally, companies would market only the most healthful foods to children, but that its guidelines strike a practical balance between that ideal and the current food marketing climate. 

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