SpongeBob SquarePants, the popular Nickelodeon character is the star of an unflattering new full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter that spotlights the growing childhood obesity epidemic. The ad was developed by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy, Children Now, Prevention Institute, and Voices for America's Children. SpongeBob’s mug shot appears in the ad depicting the childrens’ icon unshaven and disheveled. The “Wanted” poster declares that SpongeBob should be approached with caution for being armed with nutritionally dangerous foods. The issue hits newsstands Friday morning.
In 2011, American children under age 12 saw an average of 13 food advertisements per day, most of which were for unhealthy foods. Unlike Disney and Ion Media's Qubo, Nickelodeon has yet to set nutrition standards for which foods it will advertise to young children through television, its websites, apps, and other media. According to a CSPI press release, Nickelodeon, NickToons, and Nick Jr. recently have advertised unhealthy products such as Cocoa Puffs, Air Heads candies, Chuck E. Cheese's restaurants, and Fruit Roll-Ups.
Nick characters are on fatty, salty Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Cheese Nip crackers and sugary imitation-fruit snacks, Pez candy, and Popsicles. Unilever's Popsicle brand sells ice pops in the shape of SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. The SpongeBob SquarePants bar is made from water, several forms of sugar, and a long list of preservatives, artificial food dyes, and other additives.
"Nickelodeon prides itself on responsible programming for children, but what about its advertising?" asked CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan in a press release yesterday. "Nickelodeon is lagging behind companies like Disney when it comes to supporting parents and protecting kids from junk-food marketing."
In 2006 and again in 2012, CSPI praised the Walt Disney Company for the progress that it has made to curb junk-food marketing to kids. Disney's updated policy will mean that the company will no longer accept ads for the unhealthiest foods on its children's television, radio, and websites, and that it is strengthening the nutrition standards for the foods its licensed characters can be used to promote. The Disney character Goofy, for instance, appears on packaging for a snack pack that includes cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery sticks, and dip.
"It's simply wrong for children's entertainment companies to push junk foods and junk drinks on their young viewers," said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment. "Nickelodeon should follow the example of the Walt Disney Company and establish strong advertising guidelines that teach good nutrition and bar the promotion of unhealthy products on its television, radio, and online channels."
CSPI has been urging activists and concerned parents to send emails to Viacom president and CEO Philipe Dauman and Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami urging them to implement a clear and transparent policy for food marketing to children. Nickelodeon's parent company, Viacom, is holding its annual shareholders meeting in Hollywood, CA on March 21.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. Obesity is the result of too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed, and can be affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Obese adolescents are more likely to have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes. Additionally, children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Obesity also increases the risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.