It's time for Nickeloden to fall into line behind Disney and start applying some minimal nutrition standards to its ads, programs and -- most particuarly -- to its iconic characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, health groups insist.
More than 55 health groups and 30 prominent nutritionists, physicians, and other experts want Nick's parent company Viacom to implement strong nutrition standards for the foods marketed to kids on Viacom's various channels and that bear images of its characters.
The company has taken some small steps in the right direction, including a vague policy to limit the licensing of Nick characters to healthier food products, the groups said.
However, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer are still used to promote unhealthy foods like imitation fruit snacks, Popsicles, PEZ candy, Cheese Nips crackers, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Nickelodeon, NickToons, and Nick Jr. recently have advertised unhealthy foods like Cocoa Puffs, Air Heads candies, Chuck E. Cheese's, and Fruit Roll-Ups.
Disney's new standards
The Walt Disney Company earlier this yearÂ announced new nutrition standardsÂ that it is expected to apply to all its marketing.
"We appreciate Nickelodeon's efforts to promote healthy lifestyles to children," wrote the groups in a letter to Viacom Inc. president and CEO Philippe Dauman and Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami. "However, such efforts are insufficient given the magnitude of the problem.
"Your PSAs, philanthropic activities, and partnerships with children's groups do not counterbalance the effect of Nickelodeon's core business and children's exposure to food marketing. The mix of Nickelodeon's marketing remains out of balance, doing more to promote unhealthy than healthy eating," the letter said.
The letter was coordinated by a coalition called the Food Marketing Workgroup. Led by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and Berkeley Media Studies Group, the coalition includes the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, Environmental Working Group, and others.
"Nickelodeon prides itself on responsible programming for kids, but how can a program be responsible, if the ads during that program are irresponsible?" asked CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Feeding kids healthfully is tough enough without Nickelodeon letting its programming and characters be used to market foods that promote obesity, diabetes, and other health problems in children."