Senators Press Nickelodeon To Ban Junk Food Ads

Some Democratic Senators are pressuring Viacom to follow Disney’s lead and adopt nutrition standards similar to those adopted by Disney last June.

In a letter to Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom dated June 10, the same day cable operators and networks were cutting the ribbon on the Cable Show in the nation’s capital Sen.Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), asked Nickelodeon and parent Viacom to net ban ads on the kids cable net that market “unhealthy” food to kids.  All have a history of pushing the industry to adopt food marketing standards to combat obesity.

The letter points out that Disney took the “important step of saying it would “no longer accept advertisements for unhealthy foods on television, radio, and websites directed at children,” and suggested the cable net might want to follow in its footsteps.

The senators’ tone was hardly accusatory.

“We applaud the initiatives that Nickelodeon has taken to promote healthy lifestyles for children, including through health and wellness messaging, but remain concerned that Nickelodeon continues to run advertisements for food and beverage products of poor nutritional quality,” they wrote.  

“Given Nickelodeon’s commitment to fighting childhood obesity and responsibility to the youth that comprise your audience,” they said, “we ask that the company promptly take similar action to implement strong nutrition standards for all of its marketing to children. We look forward to your response. “

"As an entertainment company, Nickelodeon's primary responsibility is to make the highest quality content in the world for kids, and we leave the science of nutrition to the experts," Viacom said in a statement. "No entertainment brand has worked as comprehensively and with more organizations dedicated to fighting childhood obesity over the past decade than Nickelodeon. Our commitment has included dedicating 10 percent of our airtime to health and wellness messaging; our partnerships with Let's Move, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and professional sports leagues among many others; our grants programs for school PE and community recreation efforts in local communities; our annual Worldwide Day of Play initiative; as well as integrated licensing and marketing partnerships with companies like Birdseye that encourage kids to eat vegetables. We have proven our commitment over and over. Less than 20 percent of our advertising comes from the food category, and the overwhelming majority of those advertisers have already signed on to the CFBAI pledge. We will continue to work with them and other marketers who strive to make meaningful progress on this issue."

Disney signaled that "all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Disney-owned online destinations oriented to families with younger children will be required by 2015 to meet Disney's nutrition guidelines."

The limits do not mean that fast food and snacks can't be advertised, but those that do must meet Disney's nutrition guidelines. For example, a 3 oz. serving of "shaped, prepared nuggets" must be fewer than 250 calories and a cereal must have under 10 grams of sugar.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.