Blumenthal Issues Letter Calling on Nickelodeon to Prohibit Advertisements that Market Unhealthy Food to Children

Nickelodeon Currently Airs One Quarter of All Food Advertisements Viewed by Children

(Hartford, CT) -- U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) today in issuing a letter to Nickelodeon and its parent company Viacom requesting that the children’s entertainment network prohibit advertisements that market unhealthy food to children.      

According to a 2010 report by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Nickelodeon currently airs a quarter of the food advertisements that are viewed by children under 12. In 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 69 percent of foods advertised on Nickelodeon were of poor nutritional quality, including fast foods, sugary cereals, and sweet snacks.      

The letter acknowledges the many factors that may contribute to childhood obesity, but notes the central role that food marketing plays. “A 2006 Institute of Medicine report requested by Congress found that television advertisements influenced children’s food and beverage preferences and the requests they make to their parents,” the letter states.      

Last year, the Walt Disney Corporation announced it would no longer accept advertisements for unhealthy foods on television, radio, and websites directed at children.      

"Childhood obesity has doubled over three decades-- reaching epidemic magnitude and a national crisis. We're calling on Nickelodeon-- the biggest source of food ads viewed by kids-- to stop the pitches for unhealthy foods like sugary cereals and sweet snacks that are powerfully promoting childhood obesity. Nickelodeon should acknowledge its responsibility as the leading source of children's entertainment to implement strong nutritional standards for food ads,” Blumenthal said. “Studies clearly indicate that children are influenced by these advertisements, and that Nickelodeon currently airs a full quarter of all food advertisements viewed by children under age 12. Nickelodeon has a responsibility, but also an opportunity, to make a positive difference in the health of children.”              

A copy of the letter follows.          

June 10, 2013              

Mr. Philippe Dauman

President and Chief Executive Officer  

Viacom Inc.

1515 Broadway

New York, New York 10036      

Ms. Cyma Zarghami

President, Nickelodeon  

Viacom Inc.

1515 Broadway

New York, New York 10036          

Dear Mr. Dauman and Ms. Zarghami,      

As a leading multi-media 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.      

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity has doubled among children and tripled among adolescents, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese youth are at greater risk of having high cholesterol or high blood pressure, prediabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and self-esteem issues. Obese youth are also more likely to be obese as adults, and are at higher risk for adult health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. The medical costs associated with obesity have a significant economic impact on our nation’s health care system, totaling approximately $147 billion in 2008.      

While there are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity, food marketing plays an important role. A 2006 Institute of Medicine report requested by Congress found that television advertisements influenced children’s food and beverage preferences and the requests they make to their parents. Nickelodeon is in a key position to help safeguard the health and well-being of our kids, and your decisions on what products are permitted to be advertised through your network have an impact on our children’s diets and long-term health prospects.      

According to a 2010 report by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Nickelodeon currently airs a quarter of the food advertisements that are viewed by children under 12. In 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 69 percent of foods advertised on Nickelodeon were of poor nutritional quality, including fast foods, sugary cereals, and sweet snacks.      

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.      

One year ago last week, the Walt Disney Corporation took the important step of announcing that it would no longer accept advertisements for unhealthy foods on television, radio, and websites directed at children. Like other companies, Disney has found success in focusing their food marketing on healthy foods that contribute to the health and fitness of their viewers. Given Nickelodeon’s commitment to fighting childhood obesity and responsibility to the youth that comprise your audience, 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.      

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal

John D. Rockefeller IV

Tom Harkin

Richard J. Durbin