Today the better-living-through-litigation squad at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) held a press conference to announce an audacious new lawsuit against two companies involved with advertising food during children’s television programs. At $25 per “violation,” CSPI threatened that “the verdict could be in the billions of dollars.”

Of course, the actual grounds for the lawsuit are dubious at best. Plaintiff Sherri Carlson charged that “‘all those enticing junk-food ads’ make her children want to eat ‘junky snacks and cereals’ instead of ‘healthy foods.’” Going out on a limb here, perhaps her kids want these foods not because of ads, but because they’re children.

CSPI’s lawsuit makes the following three assumptions:Television can’t be turned off;Parents have no control over what food they buy; andParents cannot tell their children to go outside and play.

None of these is true. From her speech at today’s press conference, it’s clear that Carlson has been a responsible mother, monitoring her kids’ behavior. And there was absolutely no allegation that advertising had actually hurt her children.

Adding to the ridiculousness of CSPI’s press conference was Executive Director Michael Jacobson’s repeated citation of an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on advertising and children. What Jacobson omitted in his diatribe is the fact that the IOM report doesn’t provide any evidence to support his argument.

But don’t take our word for it. Dr. Bernadine Healy, a past Director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote in U.S. News and World Report on December 26:

This month’s report on marketing food to children from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine does not say that Madison Avenue is making our kids fat. (It states repeatedly that evidence is insufficient to claim “a causal relationship from television advertising to adiposity.”)

On December 11, Professor Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote about the IOM report on his blog:

As far as I could tell from examining the complex report by the Institute of Medicine, it did not include any studies (presumably because none are available) that directly looks at the effects of advertising by fast food and beverage companies on the overall consumption of these goods by teenagers and younger children … And despite the hype the study received, the Institute of Medicine’s report on obesity and advertising did not present any convincing evidence that television advertising oriented toward children has been responsible for the increase in children’s obesity during the past quarter century.