Press Releases

Jun 13 2013


Senator Pushes for Action to Tackle?s Nation?s Obesity Epidemic, Particularly Among Kids

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Jay Rockefeller is calling on one of the top children’s cable television networks, Nickelodeon, and its parent company, Viacom, to become part of the fight against the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.  Rockefeller wants Nickelodeon to ban ads targeted at kids that promote and sell junk food and sugar-filled beverages.  He believes the cable channel has a moral obligation to protects the health of its young and impressionable audience.

Nickelodeon airs a quarter of the food advertisements viewed by children under 12 years old, according to a 2010 Yale University study.  Last year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 69 percent of foods advertised on Nickelodeon -- fast foods, sugary cereals, and sweet snacks -- were of poor nutritional quality.

“This is about making sure our kids are able to live strong, healthy lives, and there are concrete steps each of us can take to support these efforts,” said Rockefeller.  “Nickelodeon can take one major step forward in the fight against childhood obesity by banning junk food and sugar-filled beverage ads that target kids.”

Rockefeller also wants to eliminate incentives for companies that sell or market these products, and promote access to programs that encourage healthy and active lifestyles.  In the 2012 America’s Health Rankings, West Virginia was rated third highest nationwide for obesity and diabetes, and overall health outcomes.  The state has consistently ranked at, or near the bottom, in many other national health polls.

“We must do better in West Virginia to increase physical activity in our communities and promote the great health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Rockefeller.  “Combined with more access to screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol, these efforts can reduce the likelihood of chronic disease and improve our state’s overall health.”


Rockefeller believes an important part of improving the well-being of West Virginia’s children and families involves reducing obesity levels.  In addition to calling on Nickelodeon and Viacom to stop running ads at kids, Rockefeller also is working to:

Eliminate the tax deduction companies use to market junk food to kids.  A 2005 report from the Institute of Medicine confirmed that “aggressive marketing of high-calorie foods to children and adolescents has been identified as one of the major contributors to childhood obesity.”

The federal tax code allows fast food and junk food producing companies, as well as other companies, to deduct advertising expenses from their taxes.  This effectively results in the federal government footing the bill for corporations to market junk food and sugary beverages – that are directly tied to increased rates of obesity – to children.

Rockefeller recently voted for amendments to the Farm Bill, which the Senate passed this week, to eliminate federal sugar price supports.  He also supported efforts that will stop taxpayer money from supporting crops, like sugar and tobacco, and programs that support unhealthy products, but rather focus on efforts to increase access to healthy foods.

As the Senate Finance Committee considers comprehensive tax reform, Rockefeller is championing a provision that would prohibit a deduction for advertising directed at children to promote the consumption of food of poor nutritional quality.

Tax sugar-sweetened beverages.  Sugar-sweetened beverages with little or no nutrition are heavily marketed, especially to children.  Scientific studies have shown that consumption of these beverages is associated with poor diet, increasing rates of obesity, and risk for diabetes.

Rockefeller has been a long-time advocate for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages to improve health outcomes.  Most recently, during tax reform talks, he proposed a three cent per ounce federal tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages.  This is modeled after West Virginia’s soft drink tax, which funds the construction, maintenance, and operation of the four-year school of medicine, dentistry, and nursing at West Virginia University.

Invest in prevention.  In 2009, approximately 174,000 West Virginia adults – 11 percent of adults in the state – had diabetes, a disease that can be triggered by obesity.  Rockefeller introduced legislation to expand an important diabetes prevention program to Medicare.  And the health reform law requires new health plans to cover preventive benefits, including blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity screenings, as well as diet counseling, which could help reduce obesity levels.

Rockefeller is a leading advocate of the “I am Moving, I am Learning” program which seeks to increase physical activity and promote healthy food choices among Head Start children.  It started as a pilot program at West Virginia University.  Rockefeller is also a long-time supporter of the Physical Education for Progress (PEP) program, which provides states with federal grants for K-12 physical education programs.

Lastly, Rockefeller helped secure the original federal waiver needed to create the successful, award winning Energy Express program to provide nutrition and literacy to young students across West Virginia.  The program is run by the WVU Extension Service and AmeriCorps workers.