Kellogg, Nickelodeon face advertising lawsuit


Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 9:40 p.m.
She has tried banning junk food and Nickelodeon, and finally stopped taking her children on shopping trips. But nothing seemed to help, Sherri Carlson said.
''They will reach for the junk food any time they are given the chance, which unfortunately happens a lot,'' said the Massachusetts mother of three.
Carlson blames kid-friendly TV commercials and marketing campaigns for making her children want unhealthy foods. It's difficult to compete with cartoon images like SpongeBob SquarePants, who pitches Pop-Tarts with bright blue frosting, she said.
Carlson said last week she is poised to file a lawsuit against Viacom, the owners of the Nickelodeon cable channel, and the cereal maker, Kellogg. With help from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, she and another Massachusetts parent plan to sue under a state law that bans deceptive or unfair advertising.
''Parents do bear the primary responsibility to ensure their kids eat a healthy diet,'' said Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. ''But the food industry is making their jobs nearly impossible. The industry needs to accept its fair share of the responsibility.''
Officials of the group said they decided on lawsuits under state laws because federal consumer protection laws are not being strictly enforced. Stephen Gardner, a CSPI attorney who is leading the new legal effort, said the group hopes to eliminate only the ''worst of the worst'' products. He said this includes Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, Apple Jacks cereal and Cheez-It crackers.
Kellogg spokeswoman Jill Saletta said the company is ''proud of its products and the contributions they make to a healthy diet.''
Dan Martinsen, spokesman for Viacom, said Nickelodeon encourages its advertisers to ''provide more balance in their offerings.''
Dan Mindus, a spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group supported by the food and beverage industry, said there is no clear-cut evidence pointing to a connection between advertising and obesity.
''This lawsuit will clog up the courts, but it won't slim down your children,'' said Mindus.
To build its case, CSPI said it spent months taping Saturday morning commercials on Nickelodeon, finding 54 Kellogg ads, almost all of which were for high-fat, high-sugar foods. It said most of the ads featured cartoon characters, repeated references to ''sugar'' and ''fun,'' and that all claimed at the end that the product was part of a nutritious breakfast.
The planned lawsuit comes at a time of heightened concern over the skyrocketing rate of obesity in the United States. More than 16 million adults are considered obese, with the number of obese children tripling since 1980. The number of children with diet-related conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol has also risen.
Health experts say there is no single reason for the fattening of the nation. They blame a variety of factors, such as a decrease in physical activity, along with the surging popularity of television and poor diets.
Increasingly, attention has turned toward the advertising and marketing of food to children. Richard A. Daynard, an associate dean at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, is preparing legal action against beverage companies for targeting teens.
A recent Institute of Medicine study highlighted the billions of dollars spent on junk food advertising a year, saying the food preferences of even toddlers can be influenced.

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