Kids Advocates Take On Kellogg, Viacom

WASHINGTON A pair of children’s advocacy groups and two Massachusetts parents said today they would file a lawsuit against Viacom and Kellogg for marketing junk food to kids.

The Washington, D.C. -based Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston joined parents Sherri Carlson of Wakefield and Andrew Leong of Brookline to bring the suit, which alleges that the two companies directly harm kids by marketing foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats.

The suit will ask a Massachusetts court to stop the companies from marketing foods to audiences where more than 15 percent are under age 8. The groups filing the suit also want the companies to stop promoting junk food through Web sites, contests and toy giveaways. The suit is being brought under a Massachusetts statute that requires companies to pay $25 for each violation of unfair or deceptive advertising. (CSPI said if the companies go to trial and are found liable, the fine could be in the billions of dollars.)

Of particular concern to the advocacy groups are cable networks like Nickelodeon and its magazine, and marketing that features characters like SpongeBob SquarePants promoting Wild Bubble Berry Pop-Tarts.

“Nickelodeon and Kellogg engage in business practices that literally sicken our children,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. “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.”

Susan Linn, co-founder of CCFC, said young children are particularly vulnerable to marketing. “It is unconscionable that Viacom and Kellogg continue to market directly and aggressively to our youngest and most impressionable children,” she said.

Responding to the lawsuit, Kellogg issued this statement: “Kellogg is proud of its products and the contributions they make to a healthy diet. We have a long-standing 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.”

In a separate statement, Viacom said: “We have not been served with any legal papers. That said, Nickelodeon has been an acknowledged leader and positive force in educating and encouraging kids and their families to live active and healthier lifestyles, as well as in the ongoing process of encouraging advertisers to provide more balance in their offerings, and we will continue to do so.”

As an example of its education efforts, Viacom said it recently formed a partnership with Nickelodeon and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation—a joint initiative between the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association—to combat childhood obesity. The company said it is committing $30 million over the course of 2006 to that campaign.