In the ongoing battle over whether the government should regulate food ads targeting children, the Food Marketing Workgroup (FMW), a coalition of more than 80 health groups and nutritionists, is putting pressure on Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to adopt nutrition guidelines for foods marketed to children, particularly foods that license Nickelodeon characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.

More than 55 health organizations and 30 prominent nutritionists, physicians and other experts signed a December 3, 2012, letter to Nickelodeon and Viacom urging them to implement stronger nutrition standards for the foods marketed to kids on Viacom’s various channels and that bear images of its characters.

The group notes that although Viacom has taken some small steps in the right direction, it lags behind other children’s entertainment companies such as The Walt Disney Co. and ION Television, which have adopted comprehensive policies that apply nutrition standards to all their marketing to kids. The FMW writes that “As the number one entertainment company for children, Nickelodeon has enormous influence over children’s food choices and thus their lifelong habits and health. At a minimum, Nickelodeon should meet the food industry’s own baseline and join the Council for Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative,” a self-regulatory group that promotes a baseline set of standards for food marketing to young children. “Even better, Nickelodeon could show leadership by working towards implementing the Interagency Working Group [IWG] food marketing guidelines.” IWG is a federal task force that has proposed draft non-binding standards.