Important news for parents dedicated to organic living: A nutrition advocacy group is accusing the Nickelodeon television network of marketing junk food to kids through advertising and licensing deals. 

In a new study, the Center for Science in the Public Interest looked at a sampling of commercials and Nickelodeon-related promotions in 2005 and found that unhealthy products accounted for 88% of all “foods, beverages and restaurant meals” advertised through Nick’s “television station, in its magazine or tied to its characters.” 

In response, a Nickelodeon spokeswoman says the company strives for “balanced messaging.” But a study coauthor doesn’t buy it. 

“They reach into children’s lives in a way that has a negative impact on children and health,” says Margo Wootan, CSPI’s director of nutrition policy. 

The Nickelodeon network reaches an estimated 92 million U.S. homes and produces several of the most highly rated children’s programs on basic cable. The network’s most famous characters include SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. 

In the new study, researchers looked at 168 Nickelodeon TV food commercials, 21 ads for food in Nickelodeon magazine and 15 grocery store products with Nickelodeon characters on the packaging. The findings appear in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

The study concludes 88% of the commercials, 76% of the magazine ads and 60% of the grocery products promote foods of poor nutritional quality, including candy and sugary cereals. The researchers assessed the nutritional value of the food based on a set of standards for food marketing to children developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts. The study deemed 94 percent of Nickelodeon-related children’s meal combinations promoted at restaurants to be nutritionally poor. 

Wootan says Nickelodeon should stop promoting junk food entirely, especially considering the rise in childhood obesity. Instead, commercials could be devoted to other products like toys, she says. 

“They can advertise products, but they shouldn’t be just advertising unhealthy food products,” she says. “It’s no longer acceptable, given the tremendously negative impact that obesity is having on children’s short-term and long-term health.” 

In response, Nickelodeon spokeswoman Joanna Roses says 10% of the network’s airtime is devoted to health messages. Nickelodeon has health-related programming and is working with companies to market foods like carrots, peaches, plums and nectarines, she says. 

“We’ll continue to provide balanced programming for our audience and work with our advertisers to promote balanced messages to kids about healthy lifestyles,” Roses says.