US nutrition activists have employed a new tactic in their ongoing battle to stop food and media companies targeting children via TV advertising.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have given the Kellogg Company and Viacom thirty days to curb junk food advertising to kids or face a lawsuit under the Massachusetts consumer protection act.

The Eastern seaboard state has some of the strongest consumer protection laws in the country.

The activists want Kellogg and Viacom, through its children's network Nickelodeon, to stop advertising un-healthful products on shows where at least 15% of the audience is under eight. They also want the network to stop allowing its popular cartoons to be used to promote unhealthy foods.

CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner also warns that other companies may be targeted. He says: "General Mills, McDonald's, Burger King and other companies all deserve attention in the future."

In response Kellogg says: "We have a longstanding commitment to marketing in a responsible manner . . . 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."

Viacom avers it "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."

Advocates and medical organizations have long criticized marketing of junk food to young children, saying it contributes to poor nutrition and childhood obesity.

The Institute of Medicine has called on companies to make more healthful products and promote them more aggressively. The panel says that if the companies fail to do so within two years, Congress should mandate changes.

The panel's claims are have been strongly rebuffed by the Association of National Advertisers [WAMN: 09-Dec-05].

Data sourced from Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff