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The Quality of Food Advertised to Children



If you have kids, chances are they watch Nickelodeon: the cable channel's programs account for 47 out of the 50 top children's shows on television today. Those programs reach into movies, books, magazines, and websites, while the characters in those programs are used to market food products and are made into collectible toys.

Recently a team of researchers from the Center for Science in the Public Interest decided to evaluate the nutritional quality of the foods advertised and promoted by Nickelodeon (Am J Prev Med 2007;33(1):48-50). First, they counted and evaluated all the food ads aired on Nickelodeon over two days. Then they looked at the food ads in four consecutive months of Nickelodeon magazine. They also counted all of the food items that had Nickelodeon characters on the package in a local grocery store and looked at the children's meals of those restaurants using Nickelodeon characters in their advertising.

Foods that did not meet various criteria, such as more than 35% of calories from fat, 35% added sugars by weight, those foods with over 230 milligrams of sodium per serving (for chips or crackers) or entire meals with over 770mg of sodium per serving, were considered to be of "poor nutritional quality."

It shouldn't surprise you that almost 90% of the televised food ads were for foods of poor nutritional quality. The most commonly-advertised foods were sugary cereals, with fast food restaurants coming in second and pastries coming in third. Similar results were seen for the magazine ads, grocery store products, and restaurant foods. What's really unacceptable, however, is that Nickelodeon's representatives claimed in January of 2005 that they "have established a set of Healthy Marketing Principles which now guide all of (their) decisions and actions involving food and beverages."

What this means for you

I agree with those researchers who would like to see children outside getting exercise rather than sitting inside watching television. Nickelodeon's marketing department will find it hard to influence children who aren't watching their programs.

First posted: July 11, 2007