Michelle Obama Junk Food Fight
Leigh Vogel/WireImage

First lady Michelle Obama used the bully pulpit of a White House event on Wednesday to urge media companies to curb junk food ads  and to restrict kids’ TV characters from appearing in spots for unhealthy products.

Obama convened an event of media and entertainment executives, food industry representatives and public interest group leaders to talk about food marketing to children.

Obama said that “those of you from media companies also play a critical role in marketing food to our children, and I want to call on all of you to do your part as well.”

Last year, the Walt Disney Co. announced an initiative to feature only products that meet a set of nutritional standards on children’s programming on its TV channels, radio stations and websites. The first lady singled out the company at the White House event and said that “other media companies can follow suit.”

Obama also urged media companies to use licensed characters to promote healthy food, as is done on “Sesame Street.”

Nickelodeon has not followed Disney in adopting the ban on junk food ads, and one group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has targeted the channel for its food advertising.

But Nickelodeon did have a representative at the event, and Obama also singled out a marketing campaign featuring characters from “iCarly” who appeared in ads for Birds Eye Vegetables, resulting in an uptick in sales. A spokesman for Nickelodeon also noted that it has spearheaded initiatives to promote health and wellness, including this week’s Worldwide Day of Play Week, designed to promote health and wellness for kids.

Nevertheless, the first lady focused on ad spots, noting the eight hours, on average, that kids spend in front of screens of some kind.

Obama said that “our kids are like little sponges — they absorb whatever is around them.”

“You see, the average child watches thousands of food advertisements each year, and 86% of those ads are for products loaded with sugar, fat, salt,” she said that the event. “By contrast, our kids see an average of just one ad a week for healthy products like water to fruits and vegetables. Just one ad a week.”

Some 18 food companies, including General Mills, Coca Cola and Kellogg Co., have pledged to advertise only healthier products on children’s programming, or not to engage in any advertising during such shows. The pledge was made to the Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

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