Consumer Advocacy Group, CSPI, Ready to Sue Food Companies Over Marketing Aimed at Children

Food crusader, Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., and his consumer watchdog organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have been on a relentless campaign against what it sees as unconscionable marketing tactics aimed at promoting junk food to children.

CSPI’s “mission statement” is found on its Web site, and states that the group “is a consumer advocacy organization whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being.

In general, CSPI’s three main goals are:

  • To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;
  • To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and
  • To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.”

Even given this apparently noble agenda, the group is not without its detractors.  CSPIscam (, for example, states: “The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and its founder, Michael F. Jacobson, are not as nice, sweet, and unbiased as CSPI’s name might imply. The group routinely uses scare tactics justified by “junk science” and media theatrics as part of their ceaseless campaign for government regulation of your personal food choices.”

Notwithstanding such challenges to CSPI’s stated goals, the organization is in the midst of a pitched battle with a wide variety of food companies and media giant Viacom (Nickelodeon TV Channel) designed to stop advertising products that are high in fat and sugar.

There is clearly an epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S. (and most other affluent nations) that threatens the long-term health of an entire generation. Studies have linked obesity and lack of physical activity in children and adolescents to significant increases in everything from diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease to orthopedic (stress on knees, hips, and other joints) and psychological problems (low self-esteem, eating disorders, bullying).

As a result, CSPI and many nutrition experts see sugared soft drinks, cereals, snack foods as fueling the epidemic along with high fat junk- and fast-food. Most of these food products are advertised heavily and in a manner attractive to children during hours when they are most likely to be watching television.

The way in which CSPI has gotten the attention of these companies is to threaten them with a two-pronged attack consisting of lawsuits and negative publicity. So far, the negative publicity angle seems to have gotten the attention of CSPI’s targets to a greater extent than the possibility of becoming embroiled in litigation.

Thus, CSPI has been able to open a dialogue with food-product giants like Kellogg, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., and Pinnacle Foods Inc. (Aunt Jemima) concerning their marketing strategies with respect to children. CSPI and other consumer advocates are also seeking to ban soft-drink vending machines from schools and to improve the nutritional value in school lunches.

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