At a time of year when parents are working even harder to fend off aggressive advertising and too many sweets — and in the wake of a national epidemic of childhood obesity — the interfaith coalition So We Might See is launching today (Dec. 16) its “Spare Kids the Ads” campaign.

In conjunction with the release of findings of other media-justice advocates, the campaign will focus on urging food and media companies to market more nutritious foods to our nation’s children. The campaign is schedule to run through January 2010.

“Today we are raising the first generation of children who are not expected to live as long as their parents,” said Jerry Van Marter, a Presbyterian who serves as chair of the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCC) Communication Commission. “Many parents feel as if they are doing battle with companies that sell candy, fast food, soda, and breakfast cereal. We need food and media companies to be part of the solution in raising healthy children, not part of the problem.”

Because many media and food companies are self-regulated, food quality standards vary significantly. The So We Might See coalition is asking the Better Business Bureau to work toward establishing uniform standards to help ensure that the foods being marketed to our children are of the highest nutritional value possible.

“Unfortunately, many companies marketing extensively to children have not even joined this self-regulatory effort,” says Wesley "Pat" Pattillo, associate general secretary for justice, advocacy and communication for the NCC, citing a recent study by Children Now. “We hope that companies not already part of self-regulatory efforts would sign up. There is a particularly important role for media companies to help parents by screening advertisements for junk food the same way they screen ads for inappropriate violent content.”

“Spare Kids the Ads” — the fourth in a series of campaigns designed and presented by SWMS — coincides with the release of several major studies examining the quality of foods marketed to children and a Federal Trade Commission examination of the issue, occurring the same day.

“Several leading studies — including those by the National Institute of Medicine, the Federal Trade Commission, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Children Now — have recommended significant changes in how we advertise food to children,” says Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive director of the United Church of Christ’s media advocacy arm, the Office of Communication, Inc.

“For example,” Guess said, “Children Now found in a report released this month that in 10 hours of television programming, a child will see 55 commercials for the least nutritious food” as measured by the HHS nutrition standards. In contrast, one commercial aired for a highly nutritious food.

On the second weekend in January, SWMS will ask its member congregations to focus on healthy eating and to take action in individual houses of worship to ask companies to help them raise healthy kids.

So We Might See is an ecumenical, interfaith coalition that has come together to educate and advocate for media justice. Its diverse religious representation includes the National Council of Churches; United Church of Christ; the UCC’s Office of Communication, Inc. (OC Inc.); U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Office of Communications; Islamic Society of North America; Presbyterian News Service; Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America, Communications Services; Disciples Justice Action Network; and more.