Nickelodeon may be a kid-friendly network, but when it comes to nutrition they are serving up the wrong ads.
According to an analysis conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), "nearly 80 percent of food ads on the popular children's network Nickelodeon are for foods of poor nutritional quality."
During an obesity epidemic in the United States, it's hard enough for parents to control what their children are eating - and the group says airing a lot of junk food ads on Nickelodeon doesn't help.
Although the findings show a modest drop from about 90 percent in 2005, it's not significant enough to make a dent.
The CSPI points out that between the 2005 and 2009 studies, the food industry instituted a self-regulatory program through the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
But for junk food lovers, self-regulation doesn't always work.
CSPI took a closer look at the practices of the food companies that participate in that self-regulatory program.
They found that "of the 452 foods and beverages that companies say are acceptable to market to children, that 267, (or nearly 60 percent), do not meet CSPI's recommended nutrition standards for food marketing to children."
The list includes: General Mills' Cookie Crisp and Reese's Puffs cereals, Kellogg Apple Jacks and Cocoa Krispies cereals, Kellogg Rice Krispies Treats, Campbell's Goldfish crackers and SpaghettiOs, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and many Unilever Popsicles.
"While industry self-regulation is providing some useful benchmarks, it's clearly not shielding children from junk food advertising, on Nick and elsewhere," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "It's a modest start, but not sufficient to address children's poor eating habits and the sky-high rates of childhood obesity."
Puddings, cookies, or fruit-flavored snacks don't meet CSPI's nutrition standards - but they are fans of yogurt. Seventy-three percent of yogurts were up to par.
Other foods that meet CSPI's standards include:
•Nabisco Teddy Grahams
•Kellogg Frosted Mini-Wheats
•Kellogg Eggo Waffles
•Several Kid Cuisine frozen dinners
•Only three of 47 Kraft-approved products
•One of eight McDonald's-approved meals, and 22 of 86 General Mills-approved products
•Burger King only identified one meal as appropriate to market to children at the time of the study
•A Kids Meal with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, apple fries with caramel sauce, and a Hershey's 1 percent milk
Other foods that don't meet CSPI's standards include:
•Fruit drinks, often high in sugar with little fruit juice as well as high-fat milk
•PepsiCo's 10 products that they say are appropriate to market to children
•CSPI also has urged Chuck E. Cheese's, IHOP restaurants, Topps Candy, Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) and Perfetti van Melle (maker of Air Heads candy) to join the CFBAI.
•Four companies that belong to the CFBAI (Coca-Cola, Hershey's, Mars, and Cadbury Adams) state that they do not advertise any products to children (according to the CBBB definition).
According to CSPI, a fourth of the food ads on Nickelodeon were from companies that don't participate in the industry's self-regulatory program.
"Almost none of those ads were for foods that met CSPI's nutrition standards, and only 28 percent of the ads from companies in the CBBB Initiative met them," CSPI said.
In 2006, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine also jumped on the health food bandwagon. It recommended that food and media companies should market healthier foods to youth within two years.
Other organizations have nutrition standards for foods marketed to children in the works, including: an Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These soon-to-be-defined nutrition standards are expected in July of 2010, and CSPI is urging the Council of Better Business Bureaus to adopt them for the CFBAI.
"Nickelodeon should be ashamed that it earns so much money from carrying commercials that promote obesity, diabetes, and other health problems in young children," Wootan said. "If media and food companies don't do a better job exercising corporate responsibility when they market foods to children, Congress and the FTC will need to step in to protect kids' health."