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Each year, advertisers spend about $1.8 billion marketing food to children.

September 15, 2016

A troubling report out of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) shows that the ad content one of the country's most popular kids television networks is dominated by unhealthy foods.

As MarketWatch reports, Nickelodeon, home of popular kids programming like "Spongebob Squarepants" and "The Fairly Oddparents," dedicates 65 percent of ad airplay to junk food.

Each year, advertisers spend about $1.8 billion marketing food to children, and their efforts work: Recent research has shown that junk food ads can actually alter kids' brains so that they'll prefer unhealthy foods. "Kids see these ads and clearly make requests for particular products," says Jessica Almy, the deputy director of nutrition policy at CSPI.

Almy's team examined 28 hours of the network's weekday programming, between the peak hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., and again on the weekend to determine the percentages of ad time given to the unhealthy food products. Though Nickelodeon has made some effort to curb junk food ads—which constituted 88 percent of ad time in 2005—Almy says definitively that "no one should be advertising junk food for kids."

The majority of the companies doing this advertising are members of the self-regulated Children's Food and Beverage Initiative (CFBAI), which is attempting to improve nutrition standards, including lowered sugar amounts, more whole grains, and fruit and yogurt in fast food meals. Almy notes that Nickelodeon in particular has been careless with its ad requirements. Though competitors at Walt Disney and Ion Television have implemented nutrition standards for all advertisers, Nickelodeon has yet to take any similar action.