The campaign group last surveyed the food ads on Nickelodeon in 2005, when around 90 percent of the food ads were found to be for junk foods. Since then, the food industry has introduced a self-regulatory program through the Council of Better Business Bureaus, called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
While the latest figures do show some improvement, the CSPI says this is “modest and not quite statistically significant”.
It also looked at the practices of the food companies that participate in the CFBAI program, and measured how the products they believe are suitable for marketing to children match up to the CSPI’s own nutrition criteria.
Almost 60 percent fell short of the criteria, which cover aspects such as saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars and encourage the presence of key vitamins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These included 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.
The CSPI says that its guidelines aim to strike a balance between what is ideal and the current food marketing climate.
“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 Wootan. “It’s a modest start, but not sufficient to address children’s poor eating habits and the sky-high rates of childhood obesity.”
She added: “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.”
Of the ads on Nickelodeon, a fourth were from companies that don’t participate in the self-regulatory program. Twenty-eight per cent of the ads from companies on the CFBAI initiative met the CSPI’s criteria.
Nickelodeon did not return a call requesting comment on the findings.
The CFBAI said it is aware of the CSPI survey, but an executive was not available to comment immediately, in time for this publication’s deadline.