by Marion Nestle
Dec 5 2012

Shouldn’t Nickelodeon adopt better nutrition standards for the products it advertises?

More than 80 health groups, doctors, and nutritionists (including me) just sent a letter urging Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to adopt stricter standards for its advertisers to children.

Marketing to children is the frontier of healthy eating efforts.  As the Institute of Medicine reported in 2005, marketing directed at children is demonstrably effective at getting kids to want products, pester their parents for them, and believe that snacks, fast food, and sodas are “kids’ food” and what they are supposed to be eating.

Efforts to get food companies to cease and desist targeting kids for ads run up against business imperatives to expand sales and report growth to Wall Street every quarter.

For some years now, the kids’ TV station Nickelodeon has been struggling to find an economically viable way to restrict marketing of the worst products.  But if Nickelodeon establishes commonly accepted nutrition standards for products it permits to be advertised, those standards will exclude most advertisers.  “Economically viable” is what this is about.

This is precisely the same dilemma caused by the ill-fated Interagency Working Group report earlier this year.  I thought its proposed standards were too generous.  Food companies thought they were too restrictive.  The government backed off.

Now Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is trying another method.  It organized a letter-writing campaign to press Nickelodeon to adopt nutrition standards like those adopted by Disney a few months ago.

If you think this is a good idea, you too can sign onto the campaign right here.

Short of regulation, public pressure might be just what’s needed to encourage Nickelodeon—and food companies—to stop marketing junk foods to kids.  

  • Joe

    I appreciate your desire for people and especially children to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. What I cannot understand are the methods often cited to help accomplish that end. Words that I commonly read are regulate, restrict, remove, prohibit etc. Each of which seek to take away the rights of a people to eat what they want or give their children what they want to.

    Rather than wage the battle on the idea of silencing the opposition why not run ads and other promotions on Nick and Disney promoting your point of view and let the public decide. This is the only fair way to find out what the public wants.

    So I challenge you to put your money where your mouth is and see who wins!

  • Michael Bulger

    Who’s money is that, Joe? Are you advocating that the US government spend as much money on advertising healthy diet as the food industry spends on advertising junk food?

    When you can come up with a funding source that can engage in a sustainable financial competition with the most profitable food companies in the world, we might have a viable option. Unfortunately, the playing field is already skewed in favor of the junk food corporations.

  • George @ the High Fat hep C Diet

    I think that was tried with cigarettes, Joe.

  • George @ the High Fat hep C Diet

    Also, the law did get behind junk food, still is in the form of subsidies. So using the law against it is fair enough.
    If people feed their children badly enough to produce malnutrition, they can have their children taken off them. Or indeed, lose them forever to disease. Should anyone be exposed to that risk who isn’t actively seeking it?

  • Joe

    Mr Bulger
    If you have ever paid even scant attention to my comments here you would know that I am not advocating that the government fund this advertising alternative.

    I am challenging you and everyone else who is concerned about “Big Food” and the so called detrimental effects their advertising and products are having. If you are so passionate about the issue you and those who feel as you do pool your resources and fund it.

    If advertising has the mind numbing effect you claim then that seems the only real way to see where the truth lies. You should at the very least be able to get the attention of some, right!

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  • Michael Bulger

    I do pay attention to your comments. It is hard to believe that you are serious in your suggestion. If you are, I would suggest you look into the advertising budgets of these corporations.

  • Darren

    To me, the real key is not going to be government restriction of corporate advertising. It is better educational standards for nutrition in schools. Teaching kids from an early age about nutrition is the only way to make a real difference. We have to empower people to be responsible for their own decisions instead of just trying to restrict choice.

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  • Jennifer

    Excellent article, and great summary of how different companies are addressing Millennials. Your point about Millennials as parents is both true and only the tip of the iceberg as far as implications for targeting. Millennials are NOT a target, they are a generation.