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Pssst…your child’s favorite cartoons on Nickelodeon aren’t as cute and innocent as they look. In fact, they’re quite guilty of teaching your child to want junk food and to pester you for these unhealthy products. They’re making your child believe that junk foods are “kids’ food” and that’s what they’re supposed to be eating. Quite simply, your efforts to raise a healthy child are being undermined by corporate interests.

With one in three children overweight or obese, kids’ entertainment companies should not be exploiting the love that children have for their characters nor parents’ trust that they support children’s best interests  by promoting unhealthy foods to their young fans.  Yet, your child’s favorite Nickelodeon characters, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer, are used to make unhealthy foods like imitation fruit snacks, Popsicles, PEZ candy, Cheese Nips crackers, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese more attractive to children.  Nickelodeon and NickToons routinely advertise unhealthy foods like Cocoa Puffs, Air Heads candies, Chuck E. Cheese's, and Fruit Roll-Ups. And Viacom’s children’s websites, including Nick.com and Neopets.com, have more unhealthy food advertising than any other children’s entertainment sites. Even Nick Jr. and NickJr.com accept advertising to preschoolers.

There’s an abundance of research that shows that food advertising affects children’s food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and health.  According to the American Psychological Association, companies should not advertise to children under 8 years old because they are unable to understand the persuasive intent of advertisements. And advertising on the internet is more difficult to defend against. Even many 12-year-olds do not recognize advertising in the form of entertaining games and videos on their favorite websites. Nickelodeon is preying on the vulnerability of our children and pushing products that make them sick and set them up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits.

Earlier this month than 80 health groups, doctors, and nutritionists sent a letter urging Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to adopt stricter standards for its marketing to children.  The letter, coordinated by the Food Marketing Workgroup and addressed to Viacom’s president and CEO Philippe Dauman and Nickelodeon’s president Cyma Zarghami, acknowledges that Nickelodeon has taken some steps to limit food marketing to children but that it’s not enough.

“We appreciate Nickelodeon's efforts to promote healthy lifestyles to children,” stated the letter. “However, such efforts are insufficient given the magnitude of the problem. Your public service announcements, philanthropic activities and partnerships with children's groups do not counterbalance the effect of Nickelodeon's core business and children's exposure to food marketing. The mix of Nickelodeon's marketing remains out of balance, doing more to promote unhealthy than healthy eating."

Another leading children’s entertainment company, the Walt Disney Company, recently implemented standards aimed to reduce junk food marketing to kids so why can’t Nickelodeon do the same?

As parents, we do have power. Here’s our opportunity to put pressure on Nickelodeon to make change. I really like what Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, said in her blog,  Food Politics,  “Short of regulation, public pressure might be just what’s needed to encourage Nickelodeon—and food companies—to stop marketing junk foods to kids.  We can make a difference – we just need to take action.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has organized a letter-writing campaign to pressure Nickelodeon to adopt nutrition standards when it comes to food marketing.  I urge you to take part in it.  We owe it to our children. Together we can make a difference!


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