A consumer group wants to keep Tony the Tiger from promoting sugary cereals on the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon show, or anywhere else kids are watching.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest Wednesday announced legal action to try to stop the Kellogg Co., maker of cereals like Frosted Flakes, and Nickelodeon cable network Viacom Inc., from marketing junk food to children.
A planned lawsuit will ask a Massachusetts court to stop the companies from marketing junk foods in venues where 15 percent or more of the audience is under age 8, and to stop marketing junk foods through Web sites, toy giveaways, contests and other techniques aimed at that age group.
The planned lawsuit in Massachusetts is the latest attempt to use the courts to try to battle the growing obesity crisis in the United States.
A widely watched lawsuit filed in 2002 accused fast-food leader McDonald's Corp. of using misleading advertising to lure children into eating unhealthy foods. McDonald's has called that lawsuit frivolous and parts of the case have been dismissed.
In the Massachusetts case, plaintiffs contend that the two companies are harming children since the overwhelming majority of food products they market to children are high in items such as sugar and fat or nearly devoid of nutrients.
"We have not been served with any legal papers," Nickelodeon said. "That said, Nickelodeon has been an acknowledged leader and positive force in educating and encouraging kids to live 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."
Nickelodeon has also licensed its characters for "good-for-you" products, such as a deal that has SpongeBob characters on packages of Grimmway carrots.
Kellogg could not be immediately reached for comment.
Of 168 ads for food that appeared on Nickelodeon during a review in the fall, 88 were for foods with poor nutritional quality, the center said. Nickelodeon characters like SpongeBob SquarePants were also used on packages of "junk foods" like Kellogg's Wild Bubble Berry Pop-Tarts, the center said.
Meanwhile, the center also reviewed 27.5 hours of Saturday morning programming and found 98 percent of the commercials promoted what it called "nutritionally poor foods."
"As a parent, I do my best to get my kids to eat healthy foods," Sherri Carlson, a plaintiff and mother of three, said in the center's news release. "But then they turn on Nickelodeon and see all those enticing junk-food ads."
Besides the Center for Science in the Public Interest, other plaintiffs in the case include the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Andrew Leong, a parent from Brookline, Massachusetts.
Massachusetts law requires that companies be given 30 days notice before a lawsuit is filed and the Center for Science in the Public Interest said it was giving that notice Wednesday.
(With reporting by Kenneth Li in New York, Nichola Groom in Los Angeles, and Jessica Wohl in Chicago)
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.