Senate Dems Declare War on SpongeBob SquarePants

Senate Democrats are going to lead an effort today to pressure Nickelodeon to stop airing commercials that market unhealthy food to kids.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will announce the Senate letter to the children's programming network at a press conference at his Hartford office this morning with Jennifer Harris of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

For years, nutrition groups have been on Nickelodeon's back for putting its characters on products such as Kraft Mac & Cheese and Pez dispensers. The food industry successfully battled back against the Center for Science in the Public Interest effort last year, noting that first lady Michelle Obama has hailed the network in the past for helping with her "Let's Move!" campaign.

"This year, the Walt Disney Company announced it will no longer accept advertisements for junk food on its child-directed television, radio, and online sites.  Disney also updated its nutrition standards for foods that can be advertised to children. Meanwhile, almost half of food ads viewed by kids are seen on Viacom programming, which includes Nickelodeon," CSPI says in an online petition. "The food and beverage industry spends $2 billion per year advertising food to children. Kids aged 2-11 years old see an average of 13 food ads a day, mainly promoting unhealthy foods. This contributes to our country’s obesity epidemic; one in every three children is overweight or obese."

Last year, the Walt Disney Corporation announced that it would no longer accept advertisements for unhealthy foods on television, radio and websites directed at children, Blumenthal's office notes.

CSPI claimed in March that nearly 70 percent of the ads on Nickelodeon are pitching "junk foods," including "sugary cereals, candy, yogurt with added sugars, fast food and other restaurants, and snacks."

"Nickelodeon congratulates itself for running the occasional public service announcement promoting physical activity," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "But for each of those messages, it's running 30 ads for junk food. Nickelodeon is clearly doing far more harm than good when it comes to the health of America's young people."

It's not known yet which other senators have signed on to the pressure effort.