Parents and advocacy groups have announced their intent to file suit against Viacom and Kellogg to stop them from marketing junk food to young children, a statement from the Center for Science in the Public Interest said yesterday (18 January).

However, when just-food approached Kellogg, the company’s communications director Jill Saletta said: “We just learned about this issue. Kellogg is proud of its products and the contributions they make to a healthy diet. We have a longstanding commitment to marketing in a responsible manner and our messages accurately portray our products. We will also continue to educate and inform consumers of all ages about the importance of both balanced nutrition and physical activity in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

The plaintiffs contend that the two companies are directly harming childrens’ health since the overwhelming majority of food products they market to children are “high in sugar, saturated and trans fat, or salt, or almost devoid of nutrients”.

The lawsuit will ask a Massachusetts court to enjoin the companies from marketing junk foods to audiences where 15% or more of the audience is under age eight, and to cease marketing junk foods through websites, toy giveaways, contests and other techniques aimed at that age group.

The plaintiffs are the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and two Massachusetts parents, Sherri Carlson of Wakefield and Andrew Leong of Brookline.

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“Nickelodeon [the Viacom-owned childrens’ network] and Kellogg engage in business practices that literally sicken our children,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Their marketing tactics are designed to convince kids that everything they hear from their parents about food is wrong. It’s a multimedia brainwashing and re-education campaign—and a disease-promoting one at that. And parents are fed up.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest claims that of 168 ads for food that appeared on Nickelodeon during CSPI’s review, 88% were for foods of poor nutritional quality. Its added that in the September and October issues of Nickelodeon magazine there were seven full-page food ads, all of which were for junk foods. Of 15 foods bearing Nickelodeon characters at a Washington, DC, supermarket, 60% were junk foods, including Fairly Odd Parents Orange & Creme Miniatures Kit Kat bars and SpongeBob SquarePants Wild Bubble Berry Pop-Tarts.

CSPI also said it reviewed 27.5 hours of Saturday-morning programming to analyse Kellogg marketing. CSPI found 54 Kellogg ads, 98% of which were for nutritionally poor foods. Of 80 Kellogg foods found in the supermarket with child-friendly on-package marketing, 84% were for nutritionally poor foods. CSPI found 21 child-friendly web sites for Kellogg products, all of which highlighted junk foods. And of 92 child-oriented branded items Kellogg had for sale on the web, 82% had a logo or mascot from a junk-food brand.