Nickelodeon, Kellogg targets of junk-food lawsuit

Thursday, January 19th 2006, 10:08 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Advocacy groups and parents are suing the Nickelodeon TV network and cereal maker Kellogg Co. in an effort to stop junk food marketing to kids.

The plaintiffs are citing a recent report documenting the influence of marketing on what children eat. Ads aimed at kids are mostly for high-calorie, low-nutrition food and drinks, according to the government-chartered Institute of Medicine.

Wakefield, Mass., mother Sherri Carlson said she tries her best to get her three kids to eat healthy foods.

``But then they turn on Nickelodeon and see all those enticing junk-food ads,'' Carlson said. ``Adding insult to injury, we enter the grocery store and see our beloved Nick characters plastered on all those junky snacks and cereals.''

Carlson and another plaintiff, Andrew Leong of Brookline, Mass., spoke at a news conference organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

They intend to sue Kellogg and Nickelodeon parent Viacom Inc. in state court in Massachusetts and served the required 30 days' notice on Wednesday.

``For over 30 years, public health advocates have urged companies to stop marketing junk food to children,'' said Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. ``Even as rates of childhood obesity have soared, neither Viacom nor Kellogg has listened.''

Both companies said they have enduring commitments to healthy lifestyles.

Nickelodeon spokesman Dan Martinsen said the kids' cable network has been a leader in helping kids and their families be more active and healthier and has pushed advertisers for more balance in their offerings.

Kellogg spokeswoman Jill Saletta said the company is proud of its contributions to healthy diets and will keep educating people about good nutrition and exercise.

A food industry-backed group defended the companies, saying the lawsuit assumes that parents can't turn off televisions, have no control over the food they buy and can't make their kids go outside to play.

``Going out on a limb here, perhaps her (Carlson's) kids want these foods not because of ads, but because they're children,'' said Dan Mindus, spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the companies from marketing junk food when 15 percent or more of the audience is 8 years old or younger. It targets not only commercials but Web sites, toy giveaways, contests and other marketing aimed at that age group.

CSPI said it had analyzed food advertising on Nickelodeon and during Saturday-morning TV shows as well as in magazines and food packages. The majority of the food ads involving both companies were for nutrition-poor foods, CSPI said.